A woman was treated Sunday for a cobra bite she said she suffered in a White Marsh shopping center parking lot, a Baltimore County fire spokeswoman said.
The Fire Department received a call at 7:12 p.m. from the Patient First clinic in the 4900 block of Campbell Boulevard in White Marsh that a woman had walked in reporting a cobra had bitten her on the finger — and she brought the live snake with her, said fire spokeswoman Elise Armacost.
"Staff had placed the snake in a trash can and wanted to know what to do with it," Armacost said.
Fire officials began making calls to determine where to take the woman and who might have the appropriate antivenom, Armacost said.
Initially, medics were routed to Franklin Square Hospital, but ended up taking her to Johns Hopkins Hospital, she said.
"The snake went with us in the medic unit in the trash can," she said, because it's important to identify the right kind of snake to administer the appropriate antivenom.
The woman told authorities that she saw what she thought was a stick in a local shopping center parking lot, Armacost said. "The stick turned out to be a snake and bit her."
The Fire Department contacted Falls Road Animal Hospital for assistance, said hospital staff.
Antivenom was flown from the Philadelphia Zoo to help the patient, said Dr. Kim Hammond, a veterinarian with Falls Road Animal Hospital, which helped coordinate some of the search effort.
Leah Brock, a receptionist at Falls Road, said she and other receptionists received the call at about 7:30 p.m. and began calling and contacting reptile rescues and others that might have antivenom.
Antivenom, also referred to as antivenin, can be toxic, said Hammond, who has worked with poisonous and deadly snake organizations. The animal hospital keeps some types of antivenom on hand for dogs, but it cannot be administered to humans.
"You can't make a mistake," he said. "If you give the wrong antivenom, you're going to kill somebody."
Often, cobras don't inject a fatal dose, he said. However, "you have to make the assumption it's fatal," he said.
Just before 9 p.m., Brock heard from someone at Franklin Square Hospital that antivenom had been found at the Philadelphia Zoo and Brock said she heard on Monday that, although the woman had had a slight reaction to the antivenom, she would still get to keep her hand.
Hammond questioned the woman's claim that she had been bitten in a parking lot.
Cobras and other snakes are cold-blooded — they are unable to internally regulate their own body temperature, so it approximates that of the environment, he said.
"That snake would have been frozen if it were outside," Hammond said.
The snake, a 2-foot monacle cobra, was brought to the Catoctin Zoo in Frederick County by the Department of Natural Resources, said Don Middaugh, the reptile curator.
The snake, which he described as about 2 years old and normally found in southeast Asia, will remain in quarantine.
People are not legally permitted to keep venomous snakes in Maryland, Middaugh said. Other communities do, however, such as some boroughs of Pennsylvania.
Antivenom can have a short shelf life — as little as three years, Middaugh said. "That's the problem if people are maintaining venomous snakes — where's the nearest source of antivenom?"
Zoos are always in the process of bringing in more antivenom, but political turmoil in countries like Thailand complicate such efforts, he said.