One of the common police calls of the summer is “snake in the yard” and rattlesnake bites are a warm-weather hazard in our desert-like community. Because they are an important part of the natural environment, rattlesnakes should be left alone if encountered while hiking.
In fact, most bites are a result of people or animals provoking the snake or trying to capture or kill them. Rattlesnakes only attack in self-defense, so the best defense is for humans to leave them alone.
A Topanga toddler is home recovering now after eight days in the pediatric intensive-care unit at Providence Tarzana MedicalCenter where he was treated for a severe rattlesnake bite.
The 2 ½-year-old boy was in critical condition May 4 when he arrived at Providence Tarzana, transferred from West Hills MedicalCenter, with a snake bite to his ankle and in need of pediatric specialists.
"He took a tumble on the stairs outdoors and there was a rattlesnake under the lowest step," said Cesar Chavarria, M.D., who specializes in pediatric critical care medicine at Providence Tarzana. "When the rattlesnake saw the commotion, it just jumped. Normally, adult rattlesnakes are wise and don't waste all their venom on one prey, but it must have been really, really startled. The amount of venom was huge."
The youngster was lethargic, and swelling spread from his ankle to his upper thigh. Blood tests showed the venom caused abnormalities in his blood, liver and muscle, Chavarria said.
Two orthopedic surgeons at Tarzana, who also are on staff at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, performed surgery to relieve the swelling, normally a controversial procedure, but necessary in this case.
Over the course of boy's hospitalization, physicians used 40 vials - about $90,000 worth - of antivenin to combat the poison. Normally, Southern California hospitals keep one or two vials on hand and, in this case, Tarzana worked with some 25 hospitals to collect the necessary medication.
The boy's mother, who asked not to be named, said snakes in her rustic community seem particularly aggressive this year as they wake from winter slumber.
Chavarria said rattlesnake bite victims most often are male, usually teens and younger adults. He cautioned parents to keep an eye on their children this time of year if they live near snake habitat. If a bite does occur, patients should be kept still and taken to the nearest hospital.
The website desertusa.com  has several tips for avoiding rattlesnakes:
- Be sure to walk or hike in areas where you can see the path and where you step or reach with your hands.
- Use a walking stick or other device to rustle the shrubs along the side of route to alert snakes of your presence.
- Wear high boots or hiking boots, long pants and gloves (when using your hands to move rocks or brush).
- Don't put your hands or feet in areas where you cannot see such as on a ledge, in a crevice and use caution when you pick up rocks or debris where a rattlesnake may be hiding.
One of the most common fears of pet owners is that their dog or cat will be bitten by a rattlesnake.
- Take your dog to rattlesnake avoidance classes designed to teach them to fear and avoid rattlesnakes.
- Always keep your dog or pet on a leash when outside of your home or away from your yard.
- Don't let your dog wander into tall grass or thick shrubs where rattlesnakes may be hiding.
- Be careful along streams and riverbeds as snakes are often found in the tall grass near water sources.
- If you encounter a rattlesnake stay a minimum of 10 or more feet away from the snake and walk around the area or take another route.
- Always have a nearby 24/7 Vet Hospital phone number and address with you when you venture out to hike with your dog and keep emergency numbers in an easy to find location at home.
Avoiding rattlesnakes around the home: