Staying safe around rattlesnakes

Michael Levine, MD, is a medical toxicologist at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center.

Question: I like to hike, only sometimes I find myself a little closer to rattlesnakes than I would like. What steps can I take to stay safe? 

Answer: It's great to hike, but one must be aware of surroundings. In general, snakes are not going to attack unless they feel threatened. Occasionally, people unintentionally step too close to a snake and get bitten. Far too often, however, people see a snake and try to move it off the path or capture it. When this happens, the snake feels threatened and is likely to bite.

The most important thing to do if you see a snake is walk away. Don't approach the snake or try to step over it. Ideally, you should wear hiking boots and long pants, but be sure to drink plenty of liquids so you don't get dehydrated. These steps will reduce the chances of getting envenomed if the snake does try to bite you.

Do not apply ice to the bite. Don't cut the bite or try to suck out the venom. Do not try to capture the snake; the hospital does not need identification of the snake to determine if antivenom will be given. Don't restrict blood flow in any manner. If bitten on the hand, remove all jewelry from the bite area as soon as possible, as dramatic swelling will occur.

It is important that you carry a cellphone. If you are able to move, make your way back to your transportation and call poison control at (800) 222-1222. If you are mid-hike and are not mobile enough to relocate, move away from the snake and call 911.

Rattlesnake bites can be very painful and also cause you to become quite ill, but with prompt medical care, they are rarely fatal.

For more information, call the 24-hour hotline at (800) 222-1222 or visit the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center website.

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