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Don't Be Snake-Bit ... And What To Do If You Are

By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) - You may have heard that we are entering rattlesnake season, with a few people being bitten over the past couple weeks as they ventured along the trails of the Front Range. But as the weather continues to warm, more people will catch a fang -- and not always while on a hike or bike ride. I've had rattlers in my back yard ... and even one in my garage. Talk about unwelcome visitors.

The advice for staying safe remains the same: wear long boots, long pants, make lots of vibrations while walking, and more importantly, let sleeping snakes lie. Given a chance, they will often slither away. Poke at one with a stick, and you're liable to be poked and bitten yourself.

So if you do have an encounter of the scariest kind, what should you do? There are a number of myths and misconceptions out there.

Let's start with the don'ts:

  • Do not try to suck the venom out. That can simply increase venom absorption, and it really doesn't work well anyway.
  • "X" does not mark the spot. In other words, DO NOT pull out a knife and make slits in the skin.
  • No tourniquets.
  • No ice.

The "dos :

  • Elevate the bitten part. Don't use the bitten part, if possible.
  • Remove rings, bracelets, or any constrictive clothing. (Because of swelling)
  • Stay calm (my favorite advice, since I would totally freak out it I was bitten). But if you start running or jacking your heart rate up, you'll simply help circulate the venom.

The most important advice: Use your cellphone. Call 911. That's because the standard treatment is antivenin, available at hospitals throughout the metro area. Antivenin is truly the stuff that will save your life or limb.

As a side note, antivenin is about $2,000 a pop, and sometimes up to 20-30 vials are needed. But it'll save you.

Now the good news is that about 50 percent of bites are "dry," meaning no venom is injected. But you don't know that at the time, so seek help. And the reason why baby rattlers are more dangerous is not because their venom is more potent; it's the fact they don't know any better and tend to empty their supply of venom in one bite.

RELATED: Hikers Beware: Rattlesnakes Are Awake And Leaving Their Dens

So be careful out there, and keep those eyes peeled. Don't go sticking your hands into hidden places, and don't step into an area you can't clearly see. And if you do make the acquaintance of a rattlesnake, remember they don't always rattle, don't need to be coiled to strike, and can have a strike range of up to 20 feet.

And please don't forget about those wandering kids and pets.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4's Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida

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