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Beware of snakes this season

Dot Mitchell, RN, clinical supervisor of emergency services at SNMH, right, and Tiffany Stanton, RN, prepare anti-venom for an incoming patient in the Emergency Department.
Submitted Photo |

Summer means snake season in Nevada County, and a snake bite could turn a short hike into a trip to the Emergency Department. A few simple precautions can make all the difference.

Dot Mitchell, RN, clinical supervisor of emergency services at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) knows all about the precautions that should be taken to avoid snakes. She has had a life-long snake phobia and has learned the many ways to avoid them.

“I saw my first snake when I was five while on a hike with my family. I ran so fast that I literally climbed up the front side of my dad to get into his arms,” shared Mitchell.



Because of her phobia, Mitchell has become the unofficial snake expert in the SNMH Emergency Department. She says that they see several snake bite cases during the summer every year. The bites are generally on the ankle for women and the hand for men.

She suggests some common sense precautions to avoid getting bitten by a snake:




Wear high boots and long pants when hiking.

Never put your hands where you can’t see them.

During the early spring, clear debris from around your house to have a clear visual.

When in the garden, take extra care around low growing plants, as snakes tend to hide in cool shade.

Mitchell reminds us to be especially vigilant at dusk when snakes come out to hunt mice and other small rodents.

“Vigilance and being aware of your surroundings are keys to avoiding snakebites,” Mitchell said.

Janice Mackey, Information Officer with our regional California Fish and Wildlife Service, says that there are only six venomous snakes in California and all are different types of rattlesnakes. She recommends that people give snakes of any kind a wide berth and take precautions to avoid situations where a snake might feel threatened and lash out.

Mackey recommends not going barefoot outdoors and wearing close-toed shoes (no sandals) when walking through wildlife areas.

“It’s also a good idea to keep to well-travelled areas and avoid tall brush and weeds when hiking. And if you come upon a log, look first before stepping over it and be careful while climbing rocks,” she said.

Mackey cautions that rattlesnakes can swim, so if you see something that looks like a stick in the water, don’t grab it!

“Snakes can be found throughout California in both rural and urban areas. They play an important role in society with rodent control. They really don’t want anything to do with us and are generally not aggressive,” Mackey said. “They just want to be left alone.”

Mitchell shares that if you do get bitten by a snake, it’s important to stay calm and call 911.

“Despite what you may have seen in movies, you do not want to open the wound or suck out the venom. These tactics can cause much more damage than the bite itself,” Mitchell said.

Her advice for treating a bite:

Call 911.

Place gauze over the puncture to absorb any blood.

Ice the area.

Keep the bitten area below the heart.

Try to keep the victim’s heart rate down as much as possible to avoid circulating the poison.

When the ambulance arrives, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) will be able to determine if the bite injected venom. An early sign of envenomation is a strong metallic taste in the mouth within minutes of the bite. Other symptoms include swelling and excessive pain near the puncture wound.

It is important to note that only two in 10 bites are envenomed. If the paramedics determine that the bite did indeed carry poison, they will call ahead to the hospital to have the ED staff prepare anti-venom.

Enjoy the outdoors this summer, but be sure to watch out for snakes and teach your children to respect them and leave them alone. For more information about rattlesnakes, visit http://www.wildlife.ca.gov/News/Snake.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.


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