Pennsylvania man dies from rattlesnake bite in extremely rare tragedy

The death of a Pennsylvania man after he was bitten by a timber rattlesnake in mid-July has made national news, mostly because of the unusual nature of the tragedy.

According to Armstrong County Coroner Brian Myers, 39-year-old Russell Davis of Freedom, Pa., was at a camp his family owns at Medix Run near Benezette in Elk County – in the Northern Tier of the Keystone State – on Saturday, July 18. 

Shortly before midnight, he was putting wood on a campfire when he was bitten by a rattlesnake.

“He went running into the camp and told his girlfriend to take him to a hospital,” Myers recounted, based on his interview with the woman.

While en route, Davis began to have severe breathing problems, Myers said. The woman stopped at the Medix Hotel tavern for help. An ambulance was summoned and CPR was begun, Myers told a newspaper reporter.

In all, about 30 minutes had elapsed by the time an ambulance arrived, the coroner said. Davis then was transported to Penn Highlands Health Care in St. Marys about 16 miles away, where he already was in “acute respiratory distress,” Coronor Myers said.

The coroner was told by Penn Highlands personnel that an anti-venom treatment was given before Davis was put in a medical helicopter so he could be transported to a Pittsburgh hospital for additional treatment.

But, before he could reach Pittsburgh, he went into full cardiac arrest and the helicopter landed at ACMH Hospital in Kittanning, Armstrong County. He was pronounced dead at 5:23 a.m. before any treatment could be given, Myers reported.

Davis is reportedly the first victim of a fatal rattlesnake in Pennsylvania in at least a quarter-century. Myers ruled the cause of death as anaphylactic reaction to a venomous snake bite and no autopsy was to be performed.

Turns out that what happened to him is extremely rare. The chances of dying from a venomous snakebite in the United States is nearly zero, according to the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida, because we have available, high-quality medical care.

“In the United States, fewer than one in 37,500 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year (7,000-8,000 bites per year), and only one in 50 million people will die from snakebite (five-six fatalities per year),” states a fact sheet from the university.

Those statistics show that you are nine times more likely to die from being struck by lightning than to die from a venomous snakebite. And some wildlife experts believe that there aren’t all that many timber rattlers left in the Keystone State but, obviously none of that helped Davis. 

Pennsylvania experienced a major decline in its timber rattlesnake population during recent decades, attributed mainly to unrestricted commercial and sport hunting, den raiding, and land development. 

This decline prompted the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (charged with reptile and amphibian management) to implement protective regulations and declare the timber rattlesnake a candidate species for listing as threatened.

Deepest sympathies to Davis’ family and friends. There really isn’t anything else to say. So much of what happens in this world makes no sense at all to me.


Click HERE to read more blogs by Jeff Mulhollem

Categories: Blogs, PenBlogs, Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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