You’re hiking through the forest, picnicking on the prairie, or spotting giant cacti in the desert. Suddenly, you hear a sound you’ve dreaded since you were a child–the characteristic hiss of a rattlesnake’s tail. You try to back slowly away, but the snake feels threatened and strikes, biting right through your boots. What do you do?
Rattlesnakes and their Bites
Rattlesnakes are one of the four species of poisonous snakes found in the US. Varieties of rattlesnakes, including the Eastern Diamondback, Timber Rattlesnake, and Prairie Rattlesnake, can be found in each of the 48 contiguous states. Some varieties are relatively small, but others can grow to 8 feet long. The Diamondback, found in western states, is responsible for more US snakebite deaths than any other snake.
The venom in a rattlesnake bite is largely hemotoxic, which means it is damaged tissue, particularly in the circulatory system. The venom also contains neurotoxic components that hinder the nervous system. The venom of baby rattlesnakes typically contains more neurotoxic components than that of adult snakes.
If you get bitten by a snake and don’t know if it was a rattlesnake or not, look at the bite. If you see two fang marks, the snake was poisonous. You will also have pain and swelling at the site of a rattlesnake bite, and may feel weak or nauseous, or have a rubbery taste in your mouth.
If You are Bitten
First, don’t panic. Of course, that’s not easy when you’ve just been bitten by a rattlesnake, but it’s important. If you panic or run, the venom will move more quickly through your system. Get away from the snake. Try to catch a glimpse of the snake, because antivenin is snake-specific. Do not try to catch or kill the snake for identification, though. It puts you at risk for another bite. Call emergency medical services immediately, if you are able.
After you call emergency services, or before you go for help, try to immobilize the bitten area. Remove anything constricting, such as rings or shoes. Try to fashion a splint, keeping the bitten area below the heart. If you have a snakebite kit you may try to suction out the poison, but do not cut the bite or put your mouth on it. Both can introduce bacteria, making the bite more difficult to treat. Wash the area with soap and water, but do not apply ice to the area; it makes the bite worse.
It’s important not to use a tight tourniquet around the bitten limb. If you cut off blood supply, you put yourself at risk for amputation. You may tie a cord or piece of cloth around the bitten area to slow the flow of venom, but make sure you can slip a finger under the tie. Also, remember to loosen the tie as the area swells.
Hopefully, help will arrive shortly. If you must move in order to call for or get help, wait about twenty minutes from the time of the bite in order to slow the flow of the venom. If you know that it will be several hours before help arrives, lie still, with the bite below your heart. Use a blanket of some sort to preserve body heat.
Of course, the best way to survive a rattlesnake bite is not to get bitten in the first place. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, familiarize yourself with the types of poisonous snakes you may come in contact with, and their habitats and habits. Remember that snakes are most active when the temperature is warm.
Always be alert to the possibility of snakebites when the weather is warm and you are in a place frequented by rattlesnakes.Always be alert