SoCal Rattlesnake Season Begins; Residents Urged to Be Careful Outside

Doctor says not to attempt first aid on a snakebite - just get to a hospital as quickly as possible.

By Brandon Lowrey
|  Thursday, May 23, 2013  |  Updated 11:46 PM PDT
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In the High Desert, a woman came face to face with a rattle snake, and quickly dispatched the viper. As the weather heats up, experts say rattlesnake attacks likely will rise. Jacob Rascon reports from the High Desert for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on May 23, 2013.

Jacob Rascon

In the High Desert, a woman came face to face with a rattle snake, and quickly dispatched the viper. As the weather heats up, experts say rattlesnake attacks likely will rise. Jacob Rascon reports from the High Desert for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on May 23, 2013.

Southern California is at the beginning of rattlesnake season, experts said, which means residents of suburban areas, canyons and deserts will need to tread carefully to avoid the slithering members of four dangerous species.

So far this year, roughly 70 snake bites have been reported throughout California, said Dr. Cyrus Rangan, assistant medical director for the California Poison Control System. He said that number is about average.

Snakebite season tends to run from April to September, though bites can occur year-round.

Four rattlesnake varieties prowl Southern California: The southern Pacific, the northern Pacific, the western diamondback and the most dangerous of them all: the Mojave.

All rattlesnake bites cause some combination of neurologic issues, blood toxicity and local swelling and tissue damage. Mojave rattlesnakes' venom tends to cause the most severe neurological problems.

Doctors at Loma Linda Medical Center see more snakebite victims than any other hospital in the nation - about 50 to 75 patients each year, said Dr. Sean Bush of the hospital's emergency department. Bush has focused his research on snake bites and leads the hospital's venom-treatment team.

He said just two snakebite patients died at the hospital in the last 20 years.

"It's pretty rare to die of snakebites," Bush said. "But it's not never. It can happen."

Up to a quarter of snake bites are "dry," meaning the snake releases little or no venom, Rangan said.

Residents in areas like the Santa Clarita Valley, Topanga Canyon, and many Inland Empire communities should take care when venturing outside on hot days when snakes can be most active, Rangan said.

In the case of a snake bite, Rangan said it's absolutely critical to get to a hospital as quickly as possible.

He said people should not attempt any "mythical" snakebite first-aid, like cutting or sucking the wound, tying off the bitten limb or dunking it into a bucket of ice. They're all ineffective or would make it worse, he said.

"Your best snakebite kit is really your cellphone," he said.

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