Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital
While COVID-19 is still in the top of minds for many, people are trying to fill their days with normal activities. This includes gardening, working in the yard, taking the dog for a walk, hiking and more.
Being aware of your surroundings is especially important. April through October is the time of year we see rattlesnakes. While they are generally not aggressive, rattlesnakes will strike when threatened or provoked. If you come across one, it’s best to give it room for retreat.
Approximately 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year — with about 10 to 15 deaths, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. About 25% of bites are “dry” which indicates there is no envenomation (injected venom). However, these bites still need to be medically treated. While rattlesnake bites tend not to be fatal, venom is like a digestive enzyme that destroys the tissue it touches and can be intensely painful because of the enzymatic component.
According to Dot Mitchell, RN, who worked in Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s emergency department for many years and is now Base Hospital Coordinator for ambulance and emergency services, it is important to come to the hospital so the antivenin can be administered.
“Be calm,” Mitchell shared. “Keep the bite area level to the heart. If on a lower extremity, lay down. Sitting in a car isn’t good as swelling will be more rapid and the bite more painful. If possible, clean the bite site and control the bleeding. Note the time of the bite, and be prepared with crucial medical information.”
Mitchell encourages people to disregard what they’ve seen in the movies. “Do not pull out your knife, slice the bite, or attempt to remove the venom. Absolutely, don’t use your mouth.”
It is a patient’s choice whether or not to call 911, but with an ambulance the medics will initiate treatment. They will start an IV, give pain medications, handle the wound and get you to the hospital faster than you can likely get on your own. Once they arrive, hospital staff will observe and mark swelling and based on their observations of the extent of swelling and determining envenomation, they will treat with an antivenin. Expect a couple of days in the hospital.
Depending on the bite location and the damage at the bite site, you may not need aftercare once you leave the hospital. Because of the delicate nature of the musculoskeletal components, bites on the hand may require surgery or extensive wound care, but it all depends on how bad the envenomation was and how quickly antivenin therapy was begun. There is also a possibility a patient may have an extreme inflammatory response to either the venom or the antivenin.
The best snakebite advice is to stay alert of your surroundings. If you are hiking, wear shoes and long loose-fitting pants. Keep your yard clear of debris and piles where snakes may hide. Wear garden gloves and long sleeves to protect your arms.
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