What to do if you confront a rattlesnake - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

What to do if you confront a rattlesnake

For about 8,000 Americans each year, it's the worst nightmare come true - getting bitten by a rattlesnake. Now, a new report has raised the bar on the danger of rattlesnake bites. Toxicologists in Arizona, Colorado and California, have observed an increase in the most extreme symptoms suffered by victims of the venomous snakes.

It's a unique sound that triggers a primal fear - a final warning from one of the planet's most venomous snakes.  Our America Now wild animal wrangler Jules Sylvester has worked with snakes for many years.

"When we're talking about rattlesnakes, we're talking about an animal that is so classically American. When you see a rattlesnake in a movie, you know where you are. You're in the United States of America," says Sylvester.

"The fangs are designed to go deep into the flesh. The strike is almost like a boxer's punch. And when they've done that, they inject the venom. It goes through the kidneys, the liver, the heart, the lungs. Basically, the lights start going out. You have trouble breathing. Seeing. Hearing. Speaking. It'll kill you," says Sylvester.

Jules Sylvester has a good understanding of snakes. Since growing up in the bush country of East Africa, he's caught and handled more than 10,000 snakes. Jules has appeared in Discovery Channel specials. And, for two decades, he's been Hollywood's go-to guy when it comes to wrangling snakes in the movies.

Sylvester had the one thing that could scare Indiana Jones: He gave Salma Hayek her most provocative wardrobe piece in From Dusk till Dawn and he created havoc at 35,000 feet in Snakes on a Plane.

Sylvester says, "America's most dangerous rattlesnake is the Mojave Green Rattlesnake. It's probably got the most toxic venom of all the rattlesnakes in the United States!"

So what should you do if you run across this or any other rattlesnake?

"If you're walking down the trail or in the garden, and you come across a rattlesnake, you go 'Ooh, look a rattlesnake.'  Stop. See the snake. Go the other way. Go around it. As long as you're further than three or four feet away, he's not going to screw with you," says Sylvester. "You don't need to beat up on it. You don't need to throw rocks and scream, shove people out of the way, panic. Just go the other way."

According to Sylvester, the most aggressive rattlesnake in America is the Western Diamondback. They account for about 75 percent of snakebites and exist from Southern California all the way across Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, Sylvester says there are crucial things you must, and must not do, to stay alive.

"Your lifesaver will be the cell phone," he says. "Get on the cell phone, call 911, tell them exactly where you are if you know, tell them to come and get you. The last thing you want to do is start running. That pumps the heart, you're shoving all this venom around the body even faster, and it will kill you."

Other critical things to remember if you've received a venomous snakebite:

  • Do not drink caffeine products. They make your heart beat faster.
  • If you're with friends, have them carry you. If not, wait for help.
  • If alone and unable to reach help, walk calmly and slowly.
  • Your objective is to get to the nearest hospital, where you will be injected with antivenom.

The antivenom stops anything from going any further, but what it doesn't stop is the damage that's already been done. So the longer it takes to get to a hospital, the more damage there is done. And it's irreparable. Understanding the dangers of rattlesnakes and how to protect yourself is important for all Americans, including those living east of the Mississippi.

One last thing Sylvester says is crucial to know about rattlesnakes: "The babies are more dangerous. One, because you can't see them. And two, they don't rattle. The venom's exactly the same. The only difference is that he's only got one drop. The mother's got about 15 drops. A quarter of a drop is quite lethal."

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