Children hospitalized after being bitten by rattlesnake at Riggs Lake

File Photo for illustrative purposes.

By Jon Johnson

jonjohnsonnews@gmail.com

RIGGS LAKE, MOUNT GRAHAM – Two children ages 4 and 8 are being treated at Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center (MGRMC) after being bitten by a rattlesnake at Riggs Lake on Mount Graham. 

According to a Graham County Sheriff’s Office report, the children were recreating with their family and were bitten while playing 15 feet away from their father as he grilled steaks. Graham County Dispatch was alerted to the bite at about 7:47 p.m.  

The father allegedly told a deputy that the children are comfortable around snakes because the family owns two non-venomous pythons. He added that they had found a garter snake earlier in the day and then were seen poking a log with a stick. 

A short time later, one of the children ran toward the father and advised he was bitten by a rattlesnake. At that time, the man noticed his other son had been bitten as well. 

The bites were on the victims’ hands, and the father marked where the bite occurred to measure the movement of the venom. 

Due to the elevation, an air rescue was declined and the deputy advised the father to start transporting his children down the mountain. The deputy then met up with the father and escorted him to the area of the Arcadia campground, where the children were placed into a ground ambulance and transported to MGRMC. 

After a tox screen showed positive for rattlesnake venom, the children were given the first dose of anti-venom and continued further treatment at MGRMC. 

What to do if bitten by a rattlesnake

Your best rattlesnake-bite tools, according to Dr. Jeffrey Suchard, UCI Health emergency medicine physician and medical toxicologist, are simple ones:

  • Car keys
  • A cell phone

“There is no intervention at the scene of a venomous snakebite that is recommended,” says Suchard. “Your goal is to get to a hospital as soon as possible to be assessed for possible antivenom treatment.”

Snakebite symptoms include pain and swelling. These start at the wound site and may or may not travel up the bitten appendage. Sometimes, you develop a muscle twitch.

In an ideal venomous snakebite situation, the victim should sit down and rest, keeping the wound below heart level, while an ambulance is called.

In Suchard’s experience, this scenario only occasionally happens. Instead, hikers and mountain bikers may be some distance away from their car and out of cell phone range when they are bitten. So what to do in these situations?

  • First, don’t panic. Death by rattlesnake bite is extremely rare.
  • If your symptoms are mild and you can walk or ride your bike out, by all means, do so.
  • For more severe bites, you could try creating a splint to immobilize the bitten appendage, but this is seldom necessary.
  • In all cases, it’s a good idea to lightly wrap the wound with gauze.
  • When cell service becomes available, call 911. You can either request an ambulance ride from the trailhead or, in dire situations, medical evacuation. In the most favorable circumstances, you may want to simply get directions to the nearest medical facility offering antivenom treatment.

What not to do

In addition to Suchard’s advice, it’s equally important to know what NOT to do. This list of don’ts includes:

  • Cutting an incision so you can suck out the venom – This macho treatment from old Western movies has never been effective.
  • Using a snakebite kit — Commercial kits often contain a blade for making an incision, which may damage internal body structures. The kits sometimes also include suction devices, which are ineffective at removing venom.
  • Applying ice — This does nothing to treat the bite and potentially leads to frostbite.
  • Giving the victim alcohol, caffeine or medication — None of these is helpful.
  • Applying electric shock — Suchard notes that this outdated and dangerous practice actually can denature the venom, but it also messes with important proteins in your body. Consequently, it’s not recommended.

Source: UCI Health

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article advised the children were flown to Tucson for treatment as stated in a Graham County Sheriff’s Office report, however, updated information from the Sheriff’s Office advised that the decision was made to keep the children at MGRMC. As of Wednesday, the children were still at the hospital, according to Undersheriff Jeff McCormies.

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