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Backpacker Magazine – June 2012

Out Alive: Bitten by a Rattlesnake

A dayhiker fights for her life—as her body shuts down.

by: Kristy Holland

PAGE 1 2
(Illustration by: Jacob Thomas)
(Illustration by: Jacob Thomas)
(Photo by: Telmo Keim/Age Fotostock)
(Photo by: Telmo Keim/Age Fotostock)

Key Skill:
Don’t surprise a snake.
Stay alert, especially on overgrown trails where vipers may wait for passing prey, and when cool temps lure snakes into open areas to bask. Step on top of logs and rocks instead of over; a rattler might strike defensively if it’s hiding underneath and you surprise it.

Never Forget: It’s not out to get you.
If a snake is in motion, get out of its way. If it’s coiled, give it a wide berth (at least 10 feet) and go around it. Snakes can only extend up to 40 percent of their body length during a strike, but you can’t jump out of the way; from start to finish, the motion takes less than half a second.

Snakebite First Aid
1. Remove jewelry or clothing that may restrict circulation near the bite because of swelling. Struck in the foot or leg? Don’t remove your shoe. You may not be able to put it back on to hike out.
2. Wash the wound. That’s all. Don’t do anything else to the bite site.
3. Keep the wound at heart level. (For lower limbs, it’s OK to walk.)
4. Evacuate. Get to a hospital ASAP. Pain and swelling may be severe, and within six hours the flesh around the wound may start to die.

PAGE 1 2

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dave
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yeeah my dad taught me something very useful along time ago. "the only good snake is a dead snake" you can argue this line of thought but it's hard to get bit by a dead snake and yes im aware it's not very echo friendly but I always say people first.

Eli
Sep 29, 2012

Just stepped on a rattle snake the other day on an elk archery hunt. Had to kill the damn thing because I didn't know what else to do. Scary stuff.

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Steven
Sep 09, 2012

"I have heard from some that you should sterilize a razor or knife and cut a slit between the two punctures, but I don't see how this would work."

A snake doesn't inject a lot of venom (typically less than 200mg while a lake rattle snake can have up to 800mg available in its glands.

prior to the 70's it was commonly recommended to cut between the fang marks and suck out the venom. In order for this to be effective you have to move fast and a terniquet may help in preventing the spread of the venom while sucking it out. If you are lucky you might get enough venom out to save your life.

From what I have read doctors stopped recommending this becuase you could get an infection from the blade. But the snakes fangs are not sterile so even if you don't use a knife you could still get an infection.

Doctors then studied the use of sucton only. unfortunately that didn't work (the fang marks are too small and the vacuum might collapse the fang holes. Many hospital web sites now don't even recomend a terniquet. As near as I can tell if no one has studied the effectiveness of the cut and suck methode.

So now the only recommendations given out are "get to a hospital". This is not helpful if you are 20 miles from help. My brother recently almost stepped on a rattle snake. there was no rattle and he was at least 20 miles from the nearest road. If I get bit far from help I'll take my chances make a cut 7mm deap(the average length of a fang) , suck, and pray I get enough out.

Asa Foley
Jul 23, 2012

Love my hiking sticks and Personal Locator Beacon... I hate snakes and there are a ton out this year in my area.

Joshua H
Jul 19, 2012

Dan, unless that trail is in a national park, carry a .22 or something next time, and do a favor for the hikers behind you...

Joshua H
Jul 19, 2012

I am a junior in college, and I have been nerdishly studying first aid since I was in the 8th grade. (Through a technicality, I have not been able to get my EMT-B yet.)
The first-aid advice in this article is borderline dangerous. Snake bites should ALWAYS be restricted in their ability to circulate venom through your body. It is very important to restrict blood flow back from the wound. Keep the restricting agent about two inches above the swelling. (as Brian said, a turniquet should only be used in an emergency) As far as keeping the wound level with the heart, this is at least bogus. wounds should be kept below the heart if possible.
I have heard from some that you should sterilize a razor or knife and cut a slit between the two punctures, but I don't see how this would work. If the fangs get full penetration, it would seem than you couldn't bleed the poison out. Has anybody else heard of doing this? If so, what are your thoughts on this?

Dan
Jul 18, 2012

There is a rattlesnake that I have had to cross paths with the last 3 times I hiked this trail. Always in the same area. It never shakes it's rattle but is coiled to strike. I have been luck to always see it in the edge of the trail. It has to be chased away. How do I get rid of it? It's 2 feet long. I was thinking of using Wasp spray. This area of the trail has to be used to reach many other trails. Other than me there is only a few people that use it. They may not be as lucky as I.

Brian
Jul 17, 2012

All this advice is nonsense. Don't walk on a snakebite. Move away for the snake a few meters and makin sure it or others aren't around find a tree or rock to get out of direct sunlight. Then tie a compression bandage or item of clothing around the limb from the bite towards the body. Do not use a tourniquet unless absolutely necessary. If you have no other choice, walk out.

Brian
Jul 17, 2012

All this advice is nonsense. Don't walk on a snakebite. Move away for the snake a few meters and makin sure it or others aren't around find a tree or rock to get out of direct sunlight. Then tie a compression bandage or item of clothing around the limb from the bite towards the body. Do not use a tourniquet unless absolutely necessary. If you have no other choice, walk out.

Curtis
Jul 16, 2012

With due respect to JP, his statement that using a walking stick is "all the warning a snake needs to stay out of your way" is dangerously incorrect. Here in colorado, in the lower elevation trails such as the Apex trail, snakes seem to have grown accustomed to heavy traffic of people and bask on the trails and don't move away. I also use a wood stick but that has no effect at all on thesnakes lying in the trail. Beating bushes as you 'bushwack' may help, but on trails it has no effect at all. I've stumbled upon Western Diamondbacks that were virtually invisible, right out in the open, even when we were attentively looking for them. The best advice you can give is just ALWAYS be looking, be very alert in any terrain where rattlers might live, and do NOT assume that just because the trail is heavily travelled that the snakes will get out of your way.

JP
Jul 10, 2012

I have hiked in snake country for over 20 years, and have only seen 2 or 3 snakes in all that time, why? I use my hiking STICK (no aluminum poles for me) to beat the brush as I walk, snakes are very sensitive to ground vibrations and will move away from a large animal (you). So dont just mindlessly walk along, use that stick for something usefull. And when I say 'beat the brush' all that means is to kinda poke the brush along the trail and tap the ground as you walk with each step, that is all the warning a snake needs to stay out of your way.

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