On average, the Logan Regional Hospital Emergency Department treats one to two rattlesnake bite victims a year. This season, the Logan Regional ER has treated six snakebite victims – two in the past week alone. The ER always stocks enough snake anti-venom to treat one victim at any given time.
In addition, there has been an increase in the number of rattlesnake sightings in residential areas this year.
“Caution is key to safety,” said Breck Rushton, director of Emergency Services at Logan Regional Hospital. “Parents should ensure their children practice safety precautions as well.” Snakebites often happen when the victim tries to touch, capture, or kill the snake. Snakebites can also occur when people are not aware of where they walk, sit, or place their hands. Commonly, snakebites can occur when people are intoxicated as inhibitions are down and they feel less vulnerable.
Rushton said in the case of the six rattlesnake bites this season, two happened when individuals tried to touch or capture the snakes. The other four were received when victims were walking through brush or climbing rocks, unintentionally placing their feet or hands in a rattlesnake’s path. Rushton notes that one-third of rattlesnake bites are “dry-strikes” — the snake bites and breaks skin, but doesn’t release venom. Two of the six rattlesnake bite victims seen in the Logan Regional ER were dry strikes.
Although death from a rattlesnake bite is rare, a bite is extremely dangerous. “There are two aspects of concern from a venomous snake bite,” said Ryan J. Stolworthy, M.D., emergency medicine physician. “First, there can be extreme swelling, especially of the extremities (hands, feet, arms, and legs). The venom dissolves muscle and other tissue in the area of the bite. Second, the venom can affect the blood’s ability to clot.” Dr. Stolworthy explains snakebite victims must be observed in the hospital for 48 hours to make sure the blood’s clotting mechanism is normal. Occasionally, extreme surgery is required to remove dead tissue. He also notes there is another negative consequence of snakebite — the cost of the anti-venom treatment. Each vial costs about $2,000, and a snake-bite victim requires four or five vials for the first round of treatment.
“We understand accidents happen, and therefore the ER is always ready to treat snakebite victims,” said Rushton. “However, being aware and using caution can help prevent most snake bites from occurring.”
In case of a snakebite injury, call 911 and get medical help immediately. Keep the victim calm, restrict movement, and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom. Wash the bite area with soap and water. Remove any rings or constricting items; the affected area will swell. Cover the bite with clean, moist dressing to reduce swelling and discomfort. Monitor pulse, temperature, breathing, and blood pressure. If there are signs of shock, lay the victim flat and cover with a warm blanket. Bring in the dead snake to the ER if this can be done without further risk of injury.
According to the Utah State University Extension office, Utah is home to 31 species of snakes, seven of which are venomous. All of these are commonly called pit-vipers because of the pit located between their nostrils and eyes. These pit vipers are known as rattlesnakes because their tails are usually equipped with a series of rattles that often make a rattling sound when they are disturbed.