DON’T SUCK OUT THE POISON; HERE’S WHAT TO DO
While going off road, especially in the southwestern part of the United States, people often wonder about snakes, rattlesnakes in particular.
Several rattlesnake species inhabit the United States, with the Diamondback and Mojave Green rather prevalent in the southwest (and most of Mexico). They are similar in appearance, but the Mojave Green rattlesnake is far more poisonous.
Found at higher elevations – in the 2,000 to 4,000 foot range – Mojave Green rattlesnakes (sometimes spelled Mohave) prefer grassy areas or scrub brush like creosote and mesquite. They have a diamond pattern down their backs like the Diamondback rattlesnake, but the pattern disappears near the tail. They derive their name from their blue green color.
Mojave Green feast on kangaroo rats, lizards, and other small critters. Unlike most snakes, Mojave Green young develop in the females’ body and are born fully formed, not hatched from eggs.
This is probably the most dangerous snake in North America. It is aggressive, fairly large-bodied, and has a complex venom composed of hemolytic and neurotoxic elements. It is responsible for several deaths each year, including in recent years a prominent snake toxin expert. This snake should be avoided. Neurotoxins affect the central nervous system, while hemotoxins cause you to bleed internally.
Symptoms of a snake bite, which can take several hours to appear, include blurred vision, slurry speech, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and respiratory failure. A rattlesnake has the capability of biting you but controlling the process and not injecting you. The young ones don’t have as much control, so they’re more likely to inject you. Not all snake bites result in poison being injected, but you should treat all bites as serious matters.
According to Emedicinehealth.com , approximately 7,000 snakebites are reported in the United States each year, with five to 10 of those being fatal.
What makes the Mojave Green rattlesnake noteworthy is the potency of its venom, which by one estimate is about 16 times as toxic as the Diamondback rattlesnake venom.
What to do if you see a rattlesnake
The best way to avoid being bitten by a rattlesnake is to stay away. That sounds obvious, but some people find out the hard way. Most snake bites occur because the person has tried to handle or otherwise mess with the rattlesnake.
If you hear the distinctive rattle, stop and look carefully. Rattlesnakes can be difficult to see at times. Once you’ve located the rattlesnake, step away from the area. Most rattlesnakes will slither away if you make any noise. Stomping or pounding the ground with a stick may help. Mojave Green rattlesnakes, however, tend to stand their ground. Give them a wide berth.
As is the case whenever you’re outdoors, remember to wear boots and long pants; long-sleeved shirts can help, too. Wear shoes and use a flashlight at night. Although they generally are more active during the daytime, rattlesnakes are known to feed at night. You may find one near your tent or the latrine.
Ouch! What if you’re bit?
The first step, as with all emergencies, is to avoid panicking. Keep a cool head and think things through. Realize that rattlesnake poison typically needs four to six hours to take full effect. Don’t drag your heels on this issue, though. Get help quick. But unlike what the movies suggest, bites from Mojave Green and Diamondback rattlesnakes don’t result in instant death to a human.
Remove any jewelry near the wound and loosen the clothing, as that part of the body may swell from the reaction. Don’t cut the wound. That will do more damage and won’t help at all.
Clean the wound and apply a bandage. (Do not apply ice or a tourniquet.) There is no need to kill the snake. When calling the hospital mention that the person has been bitten by a pit viper (the name for that class of snakes). There is just one anti-venom for all rattlesnake bites.
If possible, keep the person – or at least the affected body part – as still as possible. That will slow the flow of rattlesnake venom throughout the body. You may not have a choice in this matter, however. If the person was bitten while hiking, he will have to walk some distance if he can’t be carried.
Call 911 or the National Poison Control Center (800-222-1222) for help. Make sure the person gets to the hospital, even if there are no visible signs of poisoning. Bite wounds are severe, and must be cleaned properly. The doctor may also administer a tetanus shot as a precaution.
Anti-venom is administered through an IV. It generally takes about 30 minutes to administer a bag of anti-venom, and the person may need more than one. (There is no anti-venom you can take out in the wild. It is available only in a medical facility.) Medical staff will also observe the patient for some time to see if there is any allergic reaction to the anti-venom.
Because rattlesnake bites are so rare, not all hospitals carry the anti-venom. This is another reason to call for help as soon as the person is bitten. Give the hospital as much lead time as possible to obtain the anti-venom if needed.
While rattlesnakes are dangerous, they’re easy to avoid. Many people are fascinated when they encounter a rattlesnake, and use the opportunity to take interesting pictures. Think of your rattlesnake “experience” as an educational one. Just keep your distance.
(Photos by the author.)