Rattlesnake bites on the rise: seven in the past seven days

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Warmer weather is on the way, and that means desert critters are coming out of hibernation to enjoy it.

But be careful out there. Rattlesnake bites are on the rise. In fact, Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center has received reports of  seven rattlesnake bites in the past seven days, a big spike from previous weeks.

Monday night, a 70-year-old ICU patient at Banner Good Samaritan was bitten in the backyard of his Buckeye home. He had gone out after dark to put a cover on his hot tub.

The snake, coiled close to the warm spa, struck immediately, biting him twice on the foot. The patient said he has lived in Buckeye for 15 years, and has had encounters with many desert critters during that time. And although he says he is usually very cautious and aware, he admits that he let his guard down this one time, and won't do that again.

The Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center receives more than 12,000 calls each year about people who have been bitten or stung by scorpions, rattlesnakes, spiders and other venomous creatures.

When you are outdoors, remember to:
-Wear long pants and lace-up leather shoes or boots that cover the ankles.
-Remain alert. Be extra cautious when temperatures are above 74 degrees in the daytime.
-Don't handle, touch or play with snakes or other critters. Walk around them if you can.
-A long walking stick can be used to move a snake out of bite range.
-Step on top of rocks or logs to get a clear view of what's on the other side before stepping down.
-Don't place your hands where you can't see. Don't blindly reach under rocks or logs.

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you are bitten by a rattlesnake. Symptoms of a bite include immediate pain or a burning sensation occurs at the site of the bite. Fang marks are usually visible. Victims may also experience a metallic or rubbery taste in the mouth. Finally, significant swelling usually occurs within minutes, and symptoms may progress to weakness, sweating and/or chills, nausea and vomiting.

A small percentage of rattlesnake bites are "dry," meaning that the snake has not injected venom. But don't count on being one of the lucky ones. Seek help immediately, because only a doctor can determine if you have a dry bite. Snakes' venom can cause severe tissue damage, blood thinning and other effects.

Here are a few guidelines to help in the event you are bitten and waiting for emergency professionals to arrive:
-Don't panic: Stay as calm as possible. If bitten on the hand, remove all jewelry immediately.
-Don't apply ice to the bite site or immerse the bite in a bucket of ice.
-Don't use a constricting band, cloth, belt or tourniquet. Do not restrict blood flow in any manner.
-Don't cut the bite site or try to suck out the venom. Leave the bite site alone!
-Don't use electric shock or stun guns of any kind.
-Don't try to capture the snake to bring to the hospital.
-Identification of the snake is not necessary for treatment. Treatment is not snake specific.

If you have any questions about rattlesnake bites or encounters with other desert critters, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Rattlesnakes are out in force