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What should I do if I encounter a rattlesnake?

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Rattlesnakes can be found throughout Utah in sagebrush, pinon-juniper woodlands, sand dunes, rocky hillsides, grasslands and mountain forests. They live at elevations of less than 1,000 feet and at timberline and everywhere in between.

In recent weeks, many people have reported encountering rattlesnakes in areas where they have not been seen before. One reason for increased visibility is the current drought, which may make snakes' prey more scarce in their traditional habitats. Because of this, snakes move to other areas in search of prey. This can increase the chances of snakes coming into contact with humans. Other reasons for seeing snakes include increased disturbance of their habitats, or the fact that people are frequenting areas inhabited by snakes.

Given the increased reports of rattlesnakes in foothill areas, if you live, work or play in these areas, exercise increased caution. Carefully watch where you walk and particularly where you place your hands. Rattlesnakes are very secretive. They survive by avoiding confrontations, particularly with humans. In most cases, rattlesnakes will be heard before being seen. If you hear a rattlesnake's rattle, stand still until you can locate the sound. Do not run or jump. These actions may only put you within the snake's striking range.

In general, bites from venomous snakes should be considered life threatening. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, the surrounding tissue will almost instantly show signs of swelling and discoloration. A tingling sensation and nausea usually accompany these symptoms. When someone has been bitten, time is of the essence. If possible, call ahead to the emergency room so anti-venom can be ready when the victim arrives.

Do the following things as you take a snakebite victim to receive medical care:

* 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 since the affected area will swell.
* Cover the bite with a clean, moist dressing to reduce swelling and discomfort.
* Monitor the victim's vital signs. These include pulse, temperature, breathing and blood pressure. If there are signs of shock, lay the victim flat and cover with a warm blanket.
* Bring the dead snake with you if this can be done without further risk of injury.
* Do not allow the person to engage in physical activity such as walking or running. Carry the victim if he or she needs to be moved.

Posted on 19 Jul 2001

Terry Messmer
Professor & Wildlife Resource Specialist

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