With record number of snake bites, USU specialist urges caution

Of the 31 species of snakes found in Utah only seven are venomous, according to Terry Messmer, USU Extension wildlife specialist. Messmer said most human-snake encounters in Utah are generally not dangerous, yet a recent report indicates Logan Regional Hospital has treated more patients with snakebites this summer than in the past. “The chance of an encounter with a venomous snake in Utah is very rare, unless you are in some of the habitats where they occur. The only venomous snakes we have in Utah are pit vipers, members of the rattlesnake family. “In cases if you encounter a rattlesnake, you may hear that rattle. But, again, they don’t necessarily rattle. The first thing you should do is basically just freeze. Freeze for a minute, get your bearings. In most cases what that snake is going to do is try to escape. The last thing you want to do is run or jump or something like that.” Messmer said every year hundreds of snake bites occur in this country as individuals attempt to capture or kill a snake. He said even dead snakes have been known to bite by reflex action. There are more than 7,000 venomous snakebites in the United States every year. “The key thing after a snake bite is to keep the victim calm, restrict movement which keeps venom from flowing to the heart. Of course, immediately seek medical care. “The direction you hear about putting tourniquets on, and cutting and sucking the venom are things you really don’t want to do. You want to get immediate care and you want to keep the victim calm. Keep the area of the bite covered and you want to monitor the victim’s vital signs to make sure they don’t go into shock.” He said it is illegal to harass, capture or kill snakes in Utah. They are protected by Utah code. “Ironically, most situations where we find people bitten by a rattlesnake, we find those folks were not very cautious. A couple of recent cases in Cache Valley, those individuals were attempting to catch the snake.” Messmer said nationally five to six people die each year from venomous snakebites. “But to put it into some perspective, 50 to 60 people will die from the effects of stings by bees and wasps. The risk is relatively rare. If you are in snake habitat, take precautions. If you encounter one, don’t try to capture it.”

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