Protect yourself and your family during rattlesnake season | TheUnion.com

Protect yourself and your family during rattlesnake season

Bailey M. Roche, M.D.
Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology, Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital

The weather is getting warmer and the air is getting dryer here in Northern California. And that means, snake season is here.

There are already reports of snakebites in our region. As an Emergency Medicine physician and medical toxicologist at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, I know I have to be prepared to treat snakebites this time of year.

According to the Poison Control Center, there are more than 400 reports of snakebites every year — and that's only the bites that are reported.

Nevada County is a hotspot for rattlesnakes. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure that your day hike doesn't turn into a visit to the Emergency Room.

Avoiding a Snake Encounter

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Snakes are defensive creatures which means they aren't aggressive toward humans unless provoked. Seventy-five percent of reported bites are on the arms and hands.

If you encounter a snake, keep your space and find a long way around it. By avoiding their space, the snake will most likely keep to themselves.

Another tip is to stay on the trails and avoid high weeds and underbrush. Snakes like to hide in the protection of the brush. Don't put your hands in the brush without investigating it first.

Be careful when picking up pieces of wood or rocks. Snakes tend to be camouflaged and can be hard to see under debris.

It's best to wear boots and long pants when walking outside to minimize the risk of an accidental snakebite.

At home, it's important to clear brush and weeds to make it easier to spot snakes. Be aware of your environment while gardening, especially around plants with dense foliage.

Children are curious and may be tempted to pick up a snake if they see one. Teach them to respect snakes and to stay away from them.

It's particularly important to be vigilant around dusk and dawn. Those are the times of day when snakes tend to hunt their prey.

Know that you may not hear a rattle if the snake is nearby. Not all snakes will rattle to warn you of their presence. Young snakes may not have developed their rattles yet.

Some people believe that baby snakes are either more or less dangerous than adults.

There is no evidence to support this. Young snakes should be treated just like adult snakes, and they can be just as dangerous.

It's also important to note that a dead snake is still dangerous. Even after death, the reflex to bite is intact.

There are plenty of reports of people being bitten and envenomated by a dead snake.

How to Treat a Snakebite

There are many misconceptions about first-aid for a rattlesnake bite.

First, do not try to cut the wound open or suck out the venom. It's been proven that this does not reduce envenomation and it contaminates the wound.

Also, never use a tourniquet after a snakebite. Tourniquets do not stop the envenomation — in fact, it can make the problem much worse and might cut off circulation completely.

The best treatment for a snake bite is:

— Immobilize the area of the bite.

— Keep it below the level of your heart.

— If possible, avoid any exertion.

— Call 911 and get to the hospital immediately.

If you need advice fast, call the Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

A small percentage of bites are called "dry bites" and no venom is injected.

However, the majority or bites are actual envenomations – meaning venom is injected through the bite.

Staff at the ER can help determine if there is an envenomation or not.

There is a very effective anti-venom that can be given in the hospital.

Every year, there are deaths due to rattlesnake bites but by getting to the hospital quickly and being aggressive with anti-venom, most people do recover.

Have fun in the outdoors as the weather gets warmer but stay aware of your environment and give snakes respect and a wide berth. Remember, snakes don't usually bite unless provoked.

For more information about snakes, visit calpoison.org/news/rattlesnake-bite-prevention-tips.

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