Humans are not the only creatures who tend to be more active in the summer months, and as the mercury continues to rise and recreationists move outdoors, they should keep an eye out for California’s most prevalent poisonous reptile.
Although most snakes in the state are harmless, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is reminding the public to steer clear of the venomous rattlesnake and to know what to do if one strikes.
“At this time of the year, rattlesnake sightings start to increase across state. The reason is two-fold: yes, snakes are more active, but people are too. People are more likely to be outside recreating, which leads to more encounters and more sightings,” said Kyle Orr, CDFW Public Information Officer.
Rattlesnakes are generally not aggressive and usually strike only when threatened or deliberately provoked. Startled rattlesnakes may not rattle before striking defensively, according to CDFW.
“One of primary pieces of advice that CDFW gives is to give rattlesnakes space, as generally they will retreat on their own,” Orr said. “Most bites happen when people handle rattlesnakes inappropriately or they startle them.”
While not common, such snake bites do occasionally happen. The majority of them occur on the hands, feet and ankles. On rare occasions, rattlesnakes can cause serious injury to humans. Just last week, an employee at Wilbur Hot Springs was bitten by a rattlesnake and had to be air-lifted to a hospital as a result.
“That was the first (rattlesnake bite) I have been on in my career here,” Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert said.
The snake bit the woman in the lower calf, and she was “definitely having some effects from (the bite),” he said.
The California Poison Control Center notes that rattlesnakes account for more than 800 bites each year in the U.S., causing one or two deaths. Most bites occur between the months of April and October.
“Rattlesnakes not just found in wild or rural areas, They are also found in more urban areas; parks, golf courses, and even rivers — rattlesnakes can swim. If you’re swimming in the river or a lake, and you see something that resembles a stick in the water, we would advise you not to pick it up, as it could be a snake,” Orr said.
The potential of running into a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors, as there are precautions that can be taken to lessen the chance of being bitten, the CDFW said.
First, the CDFW advises wearing hiking boots and loose-fitting long pants when out in nature, and to avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
“When people out and about recreating, don’t go barefoot and don’t wear sandals. Stick to well used trails when hiking” Orr said, adding that people should not hike alone — not only because of snakes but as a general safety practice.
CDFW also advises people not to step or place their hands where they cannot see, and to avoid wandering around in the dark. In addition, they suggest stepping on logs and rocks, rather than over them over them, and to be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood, checking out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shaking out sleeping bags before use.
Finally, CDFW said to not handle a freshly killed snake, as it can still inject venom, and to teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone.
Pets are at risk of being bitten, too. While neither the Williams Animal Clinic nor the Colusa Veterinary Hospital have treated an animal for a bite this summer, they both offer vaccines for rattlesnake bites that could potentially save an animal’s life. Courtney Elliot, chief animal control officer in Colusa County, advised pet owners to vaccinate against rattlesnake bites.
The vaccine helps to lessen the severity of the venom, and gives pet owners more time to seek veterinary care if there is a bite. The treatment is a series of two vaccinations, which are given about two months apart, and requires periodic boosters over time.
“The shot is a bit expensive — it runs somewhere in the $20 to $30 range — but it’s worth the money,” Elliot said.
In the event that a bite does occur, the procedure for pets is much the same as it is for humans, Kathy Gerber of the Williams Animal Clinic said.
“They should get them to the animal clinic or hospital as fast as they can, so they can start the anti-venom,” Gerber said. “If they are bitten, they should try to limit the pet’s activity as much as possible to keep the circulation rate down to a minimum so they can get them to a hospital — the same goes for people, too.”
Even if a pet has been vaccinated, a trip to the vet is still necessary in the event of a bite, Marianne Salazar said at the Colusa Veterinary Hospital.
What to do in the event of a snake bite:
Though uncommon, rattlesnake bites do occur, so have a plan in place for responding to any situation. Carry a cell phone, hike with a companion who can assist in an emergency and make sure that family or friends know where you are going and when you will be checking in.
Wash the bite area gently with soap and water.
Remove watches, rings, etc, which may constrict swelling.
Immobilize the affected area.
Transport safely to the nearest medical facility.
For more first aid information, please visit California Poison Control at www.calpoison.com.
What you should NOT do after a rattlesnake bite:
DON’T apply a tourniquet.
DON’T pack the bite area in ice.
DON’T cut the wound with a knife or razor.
DON’T use your mouth to suck out the venom.
DON’T let the victim drink alcohol.