More rain could mean more snake bites, the study from CU Boulder professor finds
How to not get bit, and what to do if you are
If you're hitting the trails and open spaces in Colorado, there are some rules of thumb provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife you can follow to prevent snake bites:
- Wear sturdy, leather boots.
- Watch where you're placing your hands and feet, and avoid stepping over rocks or areas that might house a rattlesnake.
- Use extra caution around dusk, when snakes become more active.
- If you hear a snake, freeze in place until you see it. (Freeze for a moment if you can see it, too, to reduce the threat you pose.)
- Put at least 5 feet between yourself and the snake, and try to move back slowly.
If you do suffer a rattlesnake bite, here are the first steps CPW says you should take:
- Move to a safe location and lie flat.
- Send someone to notify park staff and call ahead to the hospital so they are prepared.
- Let the area bleed freely for 30 seconds, then cleanse and disinfect it with Betadine or soap and water.
- If hospital treatment is more than 30 minutes away and the bite is on an appendage, use a wide elastic bandage to dress the wound, from just above the bite past the knee or elbow joint.
- Apply direct pressure to the bite with a gauze pad, soaked in Betadine and taped in place.
- Remove jewelry and tight clothing from the area, as the bitten appendage will swell.
- Immobilize the area as much as possible, using splints.
- Try to keep the bite area even with the heart, as raising it above the heart will increase the spread of venom into the body.
A new study shows the number of rattlesnake bites might correlate to the amount of rainfall in a given year.
Caleb Phillips, an adjunct assistant professor in the University of Colorado Boulder computer science department, led the study with Grant Lipman, from the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.
The study looked at 20 years of snake bite data across California, according to a news release from CU Boulder. It was published in the scientific journal Clinical Toxicology.
Researchers compared the 5,365 cases reported to the California Poison Control System between 1997 and 2017 to climate and drought data from NASA and the National Drought Mitigation Center.
What they found suggests that those who plan services related to snake bites might benefit from considering climate change as a factor.
"This study shows a possible unexpected, secondary result of climate change," Phillips said. "We probably need to take climatological changes into account when we coordinate systems that may seem unrelated, like planning how we distribute antivenin supplies or funding poison control centers."
For every 10 percent increase in rainfall over the previous 18 months, researchers found that cases of snake bites increased by 3.9 percent across the state, according to the release.
The number of cases hits record lows across the state in 2015 and 2016, when California was experiencing a historic drought.
The study provides a predictive model to estimate whether an area will experience more or fewer snake bites that are "normal" based on climate information from prior months, Phillips said.
As the weather becomes more variable and extreme in the western part of the country, the secondary impacts of these kinds of interactions "may be very important to account for in a public health context," he said.
Researchers believe the connection could be caused by a greater availability of food, as rodents do well in rainy years, thus fueling a larger snake population, but Phillips said more research is needed to verify that relationship.
Phillips would like to see if the same trend would repeat itself in Colorado, home to a prairie, western and massasauga rattlesnakes. He suspects the findings would be similar.
Research in Colorado and other parts of the country suggests that how warming temperatures impact rainfall patterns won't be as clear-cut, as some regions experience severe storms while others remain dry, according to the news release.
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, email@example.com