Here’s What to Do If You Encounter a Rattler
Do you know what to do if there is a rattlesnake in your driveway or if you are bitten by one?
Pacific Palisades is on the wildlife interface, which means that residents not only see coyotes and sometimes bobcats roaming local streets, but rattlesnakes as well, especially in the canyons and on brush-covered hillsides.
A Circling the News reader wrote, “Last week, on a particularly hot summer evening, I came home from book club around 8:30, parked my car in the garage and opened the door to my patio.
“By the grace of God, I had my little flashlight on when just three feet away from me was a four-foot rattler right across my pathway. Luckily, I had not stepped on it as it scurried off. Best of all, I was not bitten.”
The reader wondered what would have happened if she had been bitten, especially since she lives alone, and her neighbors are generally in bed early and might not be available if she needed them.
She asked local firefighters for advice and they said if she was bitten not to use a tourniquet, but instead “Call 911″ and “Open your door and your gate, so that we have easy access to the home.”
Firefighter paramedics also told her to “keep calm, and keep the area bitten below your heart, but above all, don’t drive yourself to the hospital because you might get disoriented and go off the road.”
Other tips from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife about what NOT to do are:
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.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, “Roughly 300-400 calls for snakebites are reported to the California Poison Control Center each year, mostly during spring and summer.”
Most bites occur between April and October, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Only about one in 736 patients who suffer from a rattlesnake bite die, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Patients treated with the antivenom CroFab, the only FDA-approved available antivenom, usually make a full recovery, but if the bite is untreated for more than eight hours, the venom can eat away at the tissue under the skin, resulting in lost fingers or damaged organs.
Wildlife specialists argue that the rattlesnake is necessary, and that locals need to learn how to avoid them.
Rattlesnakes mate in March, with live snakes born in August and September. According to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), the newborn snakes require protection for one to two weeks and are likely to be born in abandoned rodent burrows or rock crevices.
“Rattlesnakes are an important part of the ecosystem, feeding on rodents, birds and other small animals,” states the UCANR website. “Rattlesnakes are natural and important predators and automatic killing of them is not recommended any more than is the automatic killing of coyotes, mountain lions or bears, all of which can very rarely harm people.”
Generally, snakes are active when the daytime temperature is higher than 60 degrees and most active when the temperature is between 80-90 degrees. During the hottest part of the day, snakes are seldom observed except occasionally at night.
According to the Departent of Fish and Wildlife, “Rattlesnakes are widespread in California and are found in a variety of habitat throughout the state from coastal to desert. They may also turn up around homes and yards in brushy areas and under wood piles. Generally, not aggressive, rattlesnakes will likely retreat if given room or not deliberately provoked or threatened. Most bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing.”
The site also warns to be on the lookout if hiking with your dog. Canines are at increased risk because they hold their noses to the ground, sniffing.
If you want to keep snakes out of your yard, install a “rattlesnake-proof” fence. The fence should be at least three feet high with the bottom buried a few inches into the ground. (Rattlesnakes can climb, and also swim.) The fence should either be solid or with mesh no larger than one-quarter inch.
A dog bitten by a rattlesnake should be taken immediately to a veterinarian.
There is a prophylactic vaccination for dogs, which will guarantee more time to get to the hospital and the reduction in pain and swelling, according to the Animal Medical Center of Southern California, located in West L.A. The vaccination only lasts about six months and a booster shot is necessary once a year before “snake season.”
When hiking in the local mountains, avoid thick brush and stay on trails. Wear long loose pants and high-top boots. If you see a rattlesnake, freeze, and slowly move away from the snake.
If you are hiking with children, make sure they have the proper shoes. A nine-year-old hiking in sandals at dusk was bitten by a venomous snake. She was rushed to the emergency room and immediately treated. She will be fine, but the total bill for her treatment was $142,938, including $67,957 for four vials of antivenin and $55,577.64 for air-ambulance transport.