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Forget Everything You've Seen in the Movies About Rattlesnake Bites
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By Bill McEwen, News Director
Published 2 weeks ago on
May 14, 2024
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About 300 rattlesnake bites are reported yearly in California. Learn what — and what not to do — if you encounter a rattlesnake and your best treatment options if your or a pet is bitten. (Shutterstock)

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This time of year rattlesnakes are active and calls to the California Poison Control System ramp up about what to do about bites.

For starters, says Dr. Rais Vohra, forget everything you’ve seen in the movies about how to treat a rattlesnake bite.

“If you get bit by a rattlesnake and do any of the things you’ve seen done in the movies you will only make things worse,” says Vohra, medical director for the Fresno/Madera Division of CPCS.

“For example, the movies love showing a cowboy, though it could be anyone, sucking the venom out of a rattlesnake bite. That’s a great dramatic visual, but it’s actually a bad thing to do. It’s not effective and could be harmful.”

Here are the “cowboy remedies” often depicted in the movies that you should not do:

Don’t use a tourniquet: This won’t effectively reduce the spread of venom and it can damage body tissue and lead to other serious complications.

Don’t suck out the venom: This isn’t effective either and can allow the venom to enter your bloodstream through cuts or sores. And, there’s the potential for you to swallow the venom.

Don’t use a suction device: This is another ineffective technique that could cause additional injuries such as damaged blood vessels.

Don’t cut the bite wound: This won’t drain the venom or relieve pressure in the bite area. However, it could result in infection.

Don’t apply ice or another freezing agent to the bite: This does nothing to stop the venom’s spread and it could result in tissue damage.

How to Properly Treat a Rattlesnake Bite

CPCS says it receives about 300 reports of rattlesnake bites yearly.

“Rattlesnakes usually avoid humans which make the odds of being bitten by one low, especially if you take the right precautions,” says Dr. Vohra. “But if you, someone else, or your pet are bitten by a rattlesnake there are some important things you should do.”

Get to a hospital ASAP: Call 911 immediately.

Call the Poison Hotline for additional advice: The number is 1 (800) 222-1222.

Remain calm: Don’t panic, restrict your movements.

Reduce the venom flow: You can do this by positioning your body to keep the bite below your heart.

Remove tight clothing and jewelry such as rings: This will help reduce swelling.

Take a bitten pet to a veterinarian: Many vets carry rattlesnake anti-venom.

Getting Help ASAP Is Critical

Severe or even life-threatening symptoms may occur within minutes or couple of hours after a rattlesnake bite.

It can produce extreme pain and swelling at the bite location, excessive bleeding, nausea, swelling in the mouth and throat making it difficult to breathe, lightheadedness, drooling, collapse, and shock. In rare cases, a bite can be fatal.

Always be aware of your surroundings and never touch a rattlesnake, even one that appears to be dead. (Shutterstock)

Prevention Is the Best Strategy

  • When hiking outdoors, wear protective gear and pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Hike with a buddy.
  • Carry a fully charged mobile phone and let people know where you plan to hike and how long you will be gone.
  • If you spot a rattlesnake, stay away.
  • Do not touch or disturb the snake, even if it appears dead.
  • Look after children and keep dogs and other pets on a leash.
  • Stay on trails, away from underbrush and tall weeds.
  • Carefully inspect logs or rocks before sitting on them.

To learn more about rattlesnake safety, visit the CPCS website.

 

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Bill McEwen,
News Director
Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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