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12:27 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

The do's and don’ts of dealing with rattlesnakes

Co-existing with snakes

Living in Arizona means living with rattlesnakes, and once you hear the sound of that rattle, you will never forget it.

There are 13 varieties of rattlesnake in Arizona, four commonly found in the Prescott basin area: the Western Diamond-backed, Black-tailed, Mohave, and Arizona Black rattlesnakes, said Wayne Fischer of the Heritage Park Zoo.

They can all inflict a venomous bite, but the most important thing to remember about these snakes is that they would all rather retreat than bite, Fischer said.

Bites typically happen when a person or animal startles a snake by unknowingly (and abruptly) sticking a limb into a rattler’s hiding spot or when one is encountered and it can’t easily retreat.

Rattlesnakes like to hide in brush piles, old downed trees and between rocks.

Around 7,000 to 8,000 people a year are bitten by rattlers, but about a quarter of those don’t result in a release of venom at all, just a painful bite.

Avoiding rattlers

When you hike, never step or put your hands where you can’t see. Doing so is the easiest way to surprise a snake and receive a bite.

If you’re walking at dusk in summer, use a flashlight to light your way.

Keep brush piles down to cut back snake habitat. (It’s also a firewise tactic.)

If you see a California King snake or gopher snake around your home, don’t harm it, Fischer said, because “these are good guys, and they will kill and eat rattlesnakes.” They’re not venomous.

If you’re bitten

If all the precautions fail and you are bitten, try to remain calm.

Get to a hospital quickly, and don’t do any of the things you’ve seen on TV:

• Don’t apply ice

• Don’t make “X” incisions at the bite marks

• Don’t apply tourniquets

• Don’t apply alcohol (or drink it, either)

Instead, do these things:

• Limit activity

• Try to keep the affected area below your heart

• Take off any jewelry or a watch that may be near the bite — the area will swell

• Some sources say you may want to wash the area with normal soap and water

Yavapai Regional Medical Center emergency physician Martin DeKort said he’s only seen three rattlesnake bites over the past ten years, but when a person is bitten, quick action is needed.

“They all required anti-venin and they all needed to be transferred to a toxicology center in Phoenix” after initial treatment here, he said, because YRMC only keeps a limited supply of the perishable anti-venin on hand.

There are two threats from a venomous snake bite, he said. One is an initial allergic reaction, much like anaphylaxis, which requires emergency treatment, and the other comes from the venom’s impact – it causes the blood’s clotting ability to be impaired.

That “can cause life-threatening complications over the next couple of days,” DeKort said.

The three bite victims he treated all survived, he added.