Venom from copperheads is not deadly, and when people die from copperhead snake bites it is due to an allergic reaction. People who are weak or either very old or very young may experience a significant impact on their body functions from a copperhead snake bite.
The copperhead injects its venom through ducts in its fangs. Its venom disrupts the red blood cells of its prey that in turn becomes completely subdued. Copperhead snakes have jaws that are flexible enough to swallow prey larger than twice its own diameter.
According to U.S. poison centers, 769 cases of bites from copperheads were reported in 2001. In total, those bites account for 37 percent of the total number of venomous snake bites4 (Figure 1).
Copperhead Snake bites are rather painful, and experts suggest that you seek medical advice after a bite.
Figure 1. Approximately 37 percent of all venomous snake bites are from copperheads.
In some states, the percentage of venomous snake bites by the Agkistrodon is much higher. Over a 40-year period in North Carolina, 64 percent of all venomous bites were from the copperhead snake.
I would be surprised if it were not the same in Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Copperhead snake bites can cause swelling, local tissue injury, abnormally low blood pressure, lack of blood clotting, and general pain in all limbs. In recent years, there have not been many reports about deadly bites from copperheads. However, a former police officer from Madison County, Texas, died from the poison of a copperhead snake in 2006. The victim was probably allergic to its venom. The chance of a fatal bite and envenomation by a copperhead is probably less than 1 to 5,000.
In general, snake venoms can be divided into three types:
Cytotoxic Venom - venom that destroys cell tissue
Neurotoxic Venom - attacks the nervous system (here: heartbeat and breathing)
Hemotoxic Venom - changes the properties of the victim’s blood so it cannot coagulate
In general, the venom of pit-vipers is cytotoxic. Adders and species of cobras also have cytotoxic venom. Mamba snakes, most cobras, and in general, the elapids have neurotoxic venom. For some reason, the venom of copperhead snakes is hemotoxic.
Copperhead Snakes are only aggressive if disturbed during the mating period.