Updated: Jan 5
Rattle Snakes populate virtually every region of North and South America. In the United States, around 7000 people are bitten each year, yet only 10 to 15 of those result in death. Many myths surround the treatment of bites. This guide will prepare you for the unlikely venomous emergency. But first, let’s correct some of the myths surrounding these snake bites:
1. *Do Not! Cut or slice the wound*
2. *Do Not! Use a snake bite kit*
3. *Do not! apply suction to the bite*
4. *Do Not! Elevate the wound*
5. *Do Not! Compress the wound*
6. *Do Not! Ice the wound*
7. *Do Not! Apply a tourniquet*
It is common to be surprised by a rattlesnake in the wild. You have almost certainly, been mere yards away from them in your travels. They love a variety of terrain and choose it based on temperatures and food supply. Most encounters are near rivers, lakes, or streams, often in tall grasses where they hunt for insects, rodents, and critters. People also prefer these areas for recreation, and sharing the terrain will undoubtedly lead to encounters. It is important to stay calm, act slowly and deliberately to take yourself away from the snake.
Rattlesnakes are not aggressive. They don’t seek people with intent to harm. Their prey is smaller than your fist. All confrontations are accidental, and bites only occur when the snake feels threatened. Their rattle is an early warning system for you, and luckily it gives you a chance to react and distance yourself before a more serious confrontation happens. As alarming and eerie as that rattle is, without it, your chances of getting struck is much higher.
All rattlesnakes have venom. However, they don’t always use it. 25% of their bites are dry. Adult rattlers have likely encountered many threats and keep a relaxed head during an encounter. They are to bite dry (no venom) and have the mature ability to control their venom when they do strike. Venom is precious, and they may choose to save it for an encounter worthy than you or your dog. However, juvenile snakes have a more challenging time regulating their venom and cause more severe complications in the unlikely bite scenario.
Identifying a bite
You won’t always hear or see the animal that struck you. Although rattlers do have a rattle, they don’t always use it. It is essential to know the signs and symptoms of a bite. Rattlesnakes are in the category of pit vipers. Their venom causes tissue damage and hemorrhaging.
1. Fang marks are a good first sign of a strike. There can be either one, two, or even three punctures at the strike site.
2. Swelling and pain around the wound site
3. Redness and bruising around the bite area
4. Numbness in the face, mouth, and extremities
5. Dizziness, weakness, headache, blurred vision, sweating, salivating
Misconceptions of how to treat a bite are numerous and will likely only exacerbate the wound. The most important thing you can do is remain calm and make your way to a hospital. The only treatment for a bite is antivenom or antivenin, and only available in medical centers.
1. Call emergency services as soon as possible to get you and antivenin transported to the treatment center
2. Remain calm and/or calm the victim
3. Keep the victim as still as possible; elevated heart rate can increase the spread of venom
4. Keep the wound below the elevation of the heart
5. Take off all jewelry, as swelling will begin soon
6. Wash off the wound site
7. Apply a clean bandage
8. Immobilize the wound limb or area
A few years ago, some friends were floating a river in the backcountry, and their 12-year-old boy got bitten by a rattlesnake. They were a day away from a hard push to their vehicle, with no cell service. They did everything right. They immobilized the victim, put them in a raft, and started making their way toward a cell signal. Along the way, every group they encountered was asked about contacting emergency services and cell service. Within the first hours, they found a satellite phone and were able to call in an airlift and get the boy transported to a hospital. On the helicopter trip to the hospital 85 miles away, the emergency responders secured antivenin and had it flown to the treatment center. From the time of the bite to the time they were being treated in hospital bed took less than 5 hours. The bite ended up being severe, but the boy made a full recovery.
Recommended rattlesnake gear:
The best thing you can do in case of a rattlesnake bite is to call emergency services. For those times when you are out of range, carry one of these satellite communication devices.