Man Dies from Cottonmouth Bite after Refusing Treatment, Going to Sleep


A man in Nixa, Missouri is believed to have been killed by a cottonmouth snake last week after he refused treatment and went to sleep. According to the Springfield News-Leader, 37-year-old Gilbert De Leon was found dead by his girlfriend on Saturday, the day after he received two snake bites while wading through the water at the Delaware Access southwest of Nixa. Although neither De Leon or his girlfriend saw the snake that attacked him, Christian County Coroner Brad Cole said it was most likely a cottonmouth.

“His girlfriend reported that he yelled he’d been bitten by a snake and got out of the river to find he’d been bitten twice—once on each leg,” Cole said. “I’m not sure what kind of snake bit him, but the only venomous water snake I’m aware of is a cottonmouth. It could have been something else, but we just don’t know.”

De Leon’s girlfriend reportedly urged him to go to the hospital and get the bites treated, but the man refused, saying he could not afford the bill. Instead, De Leon used a knife to cut open the wounds and tried to squeeze the venom out himself— the opposite of what many experts suggest doing. Despite what Hollywood may tell you, trying to extract the venom yourself by either squeezing it out or sucking it with your mouth can have few real benefits. Experts instead recommend seeking treatment as soon as possible. When it comes to cottonmouths, CroFab anti-venom is remarkably effective at treating bites.

Judging by the marks on his legs, Cole suspected that the snake that bit De Leon was relatively small. De Leon may also not have known that the snake that bit him was venomous, although his girlfriend noticed symptoms when he laid down to sleep.

“During the night, she thought he was having some labored breathing, but once again, could not get him to go to the doctor or seek medical attention,” Cole told KFOR.

It was a mistake that could cost him his life. Cole said De Leon died during the night.

Wildlife experts advise that victims of a snake bite should always seek medical attention, especially if they did not see the snake that bit them. Missouri has a number of venomous snakes, including the massasauga rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, western pygmy rattlesnake, copperhead, and cottonmouth. Unfortunately, since cottonmouth snakes are often found in the water, many people mistake them for harmless water snakes.

“Sometimes it can be difficult to identify snakes especially in the water,” Warren Rose, an educator with the Missouri Department of Conservation, told KSPR.

Cottonmouth bites are relatively common and can be very dangerous, although fatalities are rare.

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