Georgia woman dies after being bitten by rattlesnake

A Southeast Georgia woman has died after being bitten by a canebrake rattlesnake.

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Family members said that Priscilla Meredith, 62, of Brunswick, Georgia, has died after lying in a hospital bed in a medically induced coma in Brunswick, suffering from the effects of a venomous rattlesnake bite.

WJAX-TV reported in late May that Meridith was bitten by a Canebrake (Timber) rattlesnake May 17 while visiting a friend's house with her sister in Waverly, Georgia.

WJAX-TV spoke one-on-one with Meridith's sister, Brenda Austen, in May.

“We were picking up things, garden tools, stepping stones,” Austen said in May. “And she went to sit down, and she jumped up and said, ‘Oh, there’s a snake! Oh, it bit me!'”

The family tells Nelson that Meridith suffered a heart attack in the emergency room, and her liver and kidneys failed while she was in the hospital.

While in a coma, they say her heart rate was elevated, and she underwent dialysis treatments.

According to statistics from the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, ‘… fewer than one in 37,500 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year (7-8,000 bites per year), and only one in 50 million people will die from snakebite (5-6 fatalities per year) …’

Her family members told us in May they were surprised to learn she was not given antivenom by the Southeast Georgia Health System Hospital Brunswick Campus where she was being treated.

They said the hospital staff told them Meridith was allergic.

Nelson took their questions to the hospital. They tell us they’re legally prohibited from speaking specifically about Meridith’s case.

But Emergency Medical Director Dr. Mohsen Aklaghi issued the following statement Tuesday: 
"In every instance that we treat a snake bite patient, the recommendation from Georgia Poison Control as to whether anti-venom should be administered is followed."

Nelson asked Georgia Poison Controls Managing Director Dr. Gaylord Lopez about those recommendations.

“Less than 25 percent of all bites that we get are patients that we recommend antivenom,” Lopez said.

He says before deciding whether a patient is a good candidate for antivenom, they consider the patient’s medical history, whether the patient’s been bitten by a snake before, the location of the snake bite, whether the bite is swelling, the amount of time that has passed since the bite, the patient’s vital signs and more.

Lopez tells Nelson that new antivenom formulas are less allergenic, and less likely to threaten a patient’s life, than those used decades ago.

After carefully considering their options, he says patients who may be allergic to antivenom can still be given the antidote if they are "good candidates."

Lopez said those patients can be treated specifically for any symptoms stemming from an allergy that may arise from the antivenom.

“In most cases where a patient requires antivenom, there are probably very few situations where I wouldn’t give it,” Lopez said. “And if an allergic reaction is the main reason where someone’s being questioned, whether or not, I’ll treat the allergies, and give the antivenom.”

Nelson also spoke to the medical director of Venom One and Venom Two’s response teams, Dr. Benjamin N. Abo.

He says he would administer the antidote to patients who may be allergic to antivenom in almost all situations. He said the possible rewards for administering antivenom to patients who may be allergic outweigh the risks.

Abo says while they may be allergic, treating the patient with antivenom can significantly increase their chances of surviving a life-threatening venomous snake bite.

“… They absolutely need antivenom,” Abo said. “If they have an allergic reaction, even if it’s a serious one, we can treat that. That’s not a problem. But you’re guaranteed to have bad outcomes if you don’t treat the venom.”

The family said they're consulting an attorney.

Those who would like to help Meridith's family can find information on how to do so here.