Woman out of hospital after being bitten by snake along Yough River Trail

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PERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. - A Fayette County woman apparently suffered a rare snakebite along the Yough River Trail in Perry Township on Sunday evening.

Tanya Jeffries was flown to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital just before 9:30 p.m. Sunday. She said she had gone looking for firewood while camping in the area with her family and was bitten on the hand.

Jeffries said the bite initially felt like a bee sting.

“When I went and yanked my hand back, the snake was still hanging on my thumb,” she said.

According to Jeffries, the snake was about a foot and a half long, and as it continued biting down, she screamed and yelled and became hot and confused.

“A bystander came by. I don't know the guy’s name, but he shot it off of my finger,” she said.

Jeffries, 43, was picked up by an ambulance and taken to a helicopter landing zone in Perry Township, according to township Assistant Fire Chief A.J. Boni.

Anti-venom was given to Jeffries at the hospital, and a day later she said she went back to camp with her family.

Reports the woman was bitten by a northern copperhead snake could not be confirmed, but Boni said it was likely. 

Boni said this was the first snakebite incident “in years” on the trail's 11-mile stretch that travels through Perry Township. In total, the trail winds 71 miles between McKeesport and Confluence.

“There are definitely copperheads on that trail,” Boni said. “There's no maybe about that.”

Fayette County Waterways Conservation Officer Scott Opfer, who handles snake-related calls in his district, said it's the first reported snakebite along the trail in his 13 years covering the area.

“I bet it was a copperhead; they're more common than rattlesnakes. But you usually hear of them up on the Connellsville-to-Ohiopyle section of the trail,” Opfer said. “I haven't had a snake call since I've been here, other than when somebody caught a rattlesnake and took it home and it escaped.”

Opfer said it is illegal to kill a copperhead snake without a permit.

Clarence Johnson, with the Whitsett-Fayette Yough Trail chapter that takes care of the trail, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the snake sighting. However, Johnson said he was surprised Jeffries thought she was bitten by a copperhead.

“If you're in Western Pennsylvania and looking for snake habitat, that one's ideal. There are rocks, water, remoteness and everything they like is there,” Johnson said. “The snake bite was a little out of the ordinary. We haven't had a snake bite, reported anyway, since I've been associated with the trail.”

Copperheads are Pennsylvania's most common venomous snake and can be found in all but the state's northernmost counties, according to the state Fish and Boat Commission website.

They prefer to live in abandoned foundations, rock walls and rocky hillsides, and can be found in dens with timber rattlesnakes, the site indicated.

“I've stepped over copperheads and didn't realize it until I turned around and saw it. If you step on one, it's going to be threatened, and it's going to strike back,” Opfer said. “I've never heard of anyone dying from a copperhead bite, though.”

Boni had advice for anyone confronting a snake along the bike trail.

“If you do encounter a snake, get off the bicycle and walk slowly, keeping the bike between you and snake,” Boni said. “One thing about a snake, give it room and it will give you room.”

Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.