Awareness, Prevention and Treatment
An 18 year old male, bit by a rattlesnake in Corner Canyon’s Movie Rocks area in June, was airlifted from the incident location to a nearby trailhead parking lot. He was in stable enough condition to be transported to Utah Valley Hospital by his mom. The teen, hiking on the upper portion of the Ghost Falls trail around 5 PM, heard a snake rattling. He paused to look around, only to discover he was right next to the rattlesnake. When he moved to avoid the snake it struck him in the ankle. Fortunately, one fang entered his ankle and one his shoe. The teen had his cell phone and was able to call 911. Emergency personnel contacted the teen’s parents. The teen’s mom used her AT&T Family Map app to locate her son and provided a screenshot of that information to rescuers, aiding them in locating the teen’s position on the trail.
Utah’s most common rattlesnake is the Great Basin rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are important predators for Utah’s ecosystem. They control the rodent population. Killing or harassing one is illegal and could result in a misdemeanor and fine.
Of the 7,000-8,000 people treated for snakebites yearly in the U.S., around five will die.
The reality is, snakes are not aggressive creatures. A rattlesnake can sense that humans are too big to be a food source.
As “cold-blooded” reptiles, rattlesnakes rely on outside heat sources, preferring periods of activity in temperatures between 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In cold weather, they take shelter underground or in caves to communally burrow and become inactive.
Sergeant Loken (Division of Wildlife Services) tells of a group of scouts who found a snake, picked it up and passed it around when the final boy was bit. The leader realized it was a baby rattler, the boy was treated, and a lesson was learned. Loken explains that a baby rattlesnake has an enlarged head vs. neck size, and a black shiny button at the tip of their tail; a non-venomous snake, like a harmless juvenile gopher snake, has similar markings, but a long slender tail that ends in a point.
Safety classes are offered through Utah Rattlesnake Avoidance and Scales and Tales Utah.
Giving a snake plenty of space is key to avoiding problems. Wildlife.Utah.gov suggests:
Watch where you step, sit, and place your hands.
• Remain calm. Do not panic.
• Do not try to kill the snake. Doing so is illegal and greatly increases your chance of being bitten.
Keeping snakes out of your yard:
• Remove brush, wood, rock and junk piles.
• Control rodents. Bird feeders and water are two of their main draws.
• Avoid scaring away harmless snake species that can deter rattlesnakes from wandering through.
• Snake repellent effectiveness is unknown.
Call for emergency help right away. It is crucial to respond quickly and get to a hospital for treatment. Remain calm and do not run, but move slowly to keep venom from circulating to the chest and brain. If possible:
• Wash with soap and water.
• Keep the area still and lower than the heart.
• Cover with a clean, cool compress or a moist dressing to ease swelling and discomfort.
• Monitor breathing and heart rate.
• Remove all rings, watches, and constrictive clothing, in case of swelling.
• Draw a circle around the area and mark the time of the bite and the initial reaction. Try to redraw the circle around the site marking the progression of time.
• It is helpful to remember what the snake looks like, its size, and the type of snake if you know it.
• Do not apply a tourniquet or suck out the venom, ice or immerse the wound in water, drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages, or pick up the snake or try to trap it.
Potential Signs and Symptoms
• A pair of puncture marks at the wound
• Redness and swelling around the bite
• Severe pain at the site of the bite
• Nausea and vomiting
Labored breathing (in extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether)
• Disturbed vision
• Increased salivation and sweating
Numbness or tingling around the face and/or limbs
Deaths due to snakebites in the U.S. have been rare since antivenom treatments have been around since the 1950’s. Bites can require as little as three doses to as many as dozens.
Most hospitals do not stock antivenom. Lone Peak Hospital ER shares that the antivenom is pricey, needs to be stored carefully, and would most likely expire. Alta View Hospital says antivenom can be couriered to the hospital in twenty minutes. St. Mark’s Hospital says they would transport patients to the U to have the bite fully treated. Intermountain Medical Center and the University of Utah Hospital are equipped to treat the highest level of trauma and are the only hospitals in Utah certified as “Level 1 Trauma Centers.”
If you find a rattlesnake, give it space and skip the selfie unless you want to risk paying for it.