Michael Levine, MD, is a medical toxicologist at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix.
Question: Rattlesnakes have recently been spotted in my neighborhood, and I’m concerned that I’ll get bitten while doing yard work. What should I do if I spot a rattlesnake?
Answer: Even in the most developed Valley communities, living in the desert means we may encounter rattlesnakes. Staying aware of your surroundings is the best defense in avoiding a rattlesnake confrontation, especially outdoors. Keep distractions to a minimum; if you’re doing yard work, pay attention to your work area and avoid listening to music on headphones or talking on your cell phone. Do keep a phone nearby, however, in case you need to call for help. Also, wear long pants and closed-toe shoes for extra protection.
If you do see a rattlesnake, simply walk away. Do not approach the snake or try to step around or over it. Generally, a rattlesnake will only bite if it feels threatened, so putting distance between you and the snake is a safe measure.
If you are bitten, move away from the snake as quickly as possible and do not attempt to capture it. Do not apply ice to the bite, or try to cut the bite or suck out the venom. Keep blood flow to the area unrestricted and remove any jewelry near the bite, as the bite area will swell significantly. If you are mobile, go inside your home and call poison control at 1-800-222-1222 for medical advice. If not, use your cell phone to call 911.
Rest assured, while rattlesnake bites can be extremely painful and may cause some illness, with prompt medical attention they are rarely fatal.