Folks who reach under the wrong pile of wood and feel the pain of a copperhead bite can relax just a little on their way to the emergency department.
That’s because internationally known snake expert Dr. Sean Bush, featured on the television show “Venom ER,” has joined the faculty of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.
Venom expert Dr. Sean Bush has joined the faculty at ECU's Brody School of Medicine.
Bush has joined ECU as a physician and professor of emergency medicine. He started work July 1 and comes to ECU from Loma Linda University in California, where he was a professor and director of the envenomation medicine fellowship. He sees patients in the emergency department at Vidant Medical Center.
“I came to ECU in search of copperheads and greener pastures,” Bush said.
“Greenville has all the elements my family and I were looking for in a community. The Brody School of Medicine feels like a place where I can thrive as a professor of emergency medicine. I have already seen snakebite patients here, and if anyone is bitten in eastern North Carolina, I hope to contribute to their care.”
Bush has had a lifelong interest in reptiles and venomous creatures. He has written more than 50 publications on the treatment of bites and stings and has lectured on the local, national and international level. He has been featured in dozens of television documentary productions on several cable networks including Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television and PBS.
Among other recognitions, he was an expert advisor on snakebite medicine to the White House Medical Unit from 2001-2009.
At ECU, Bush plans to study copperhead snakes and their venom as well as other poisonous stinging and biting creatures, from fire ants to wasps to black widow spiders.
“Anything that bites, stings or has venom, I’m interested in that,” he said.
Copperheads are the most common of six species of venomous snakes in North Carolina. In 2009, North Carolina led the nation in copperhead bites with 228. Their bites are typically not fatal for humans, though they can kill small animals and do require immediate medical attention.
Rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and coral snakes are a more serious danger. “That’s a 9-1-1 helicopter emergency,” Bush said of a rattlesnake bite.
However, Bush said, snakes aren’t out to get people.
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“They’re not trying to eat a person,” he said. “A snake is trying to get away. A snake is one inch, and you’re probably 70 inches. If you saw something 70 times taller than you, you’d want to get away, too.”
Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for people to say they hate snakes and try to kill any snake they see.
“That, to me, it’s absurd. It’s uninformed. It’s a little small-minded,” Bush said. “Snakes deserve to live, too. I personally love snakes.”
Snakes can also be beneficial. They eat rats and mice, and some eat more dangerous rivals.
“A king snake in your yard means a rattlesnake will go out of your yard,” Bush said of the non-poisonous constricting snake that’s immune to the venom of the pit viper it sometimes dines on.
Bush’s arrival at ECU is noteworthy, school officials said.
“We are excited and proud to have recruited Dr. Sean Bush to join us at ECU Emergency Medicine,” said Dr. Theodore Delbridge.
To mixed reactions, Bush showed an eastern king snake to staff at Vidant Medical Center.
“He is of the highest caliber and brings with him a track record of significant academic and clinical accomplishments that will contribute to our programs in outstanding ways. We look forward to Dr. Bush’s contributions to our ongoing research regarding various envenomations and his expertise when it comes to treating the multitude of bites and stings we regularly see in the emergency department.”
Bush is not alone on the ECU faculty in studying the treatment of people hurt by wildlife. Dr. William Meggs, an emergency physician and toxicologist, has published research on the treatment of coral snake bites. Dr. Eric Toschlog, a surgeon, is a member of the Wilderness Medical Society and has written and lectured on the subject of wildlife attacks.
Bush has bachelor’s and medical degrees from Texas A&M University and completed residency training in emergency medicine at Loma Linda University Medical Center. He has 30 publications in peer-reviewed journals in addition to other academic writings.
Bush is board-certified in emergency medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Though Bush has never been bitten by a poisonous snake, his son was bitten by a rattlesnake when he was 2 years old. He fully recovered.
If anyone wants to avoid seeing him in the emergency department, Bush has some simple advice.
“The best thing to do is leave wildlife alone,” he said. “Take pictures of it.”