Wednesday, June 6, 2012


The following is from the U-T San Diego News

More San Diegans are being bitten by rattlesnakes, and the venom seems to be getting more toxic, health officials say.

“While San Diego County is seeing a rise in snake bite cases each year, the more alarming factor is the toxicity of the bite,” Dr. Richard Clark, director of the Division of Medical Toxicology at UC San Diego Health System, said Monday.

“We don’t know for sure that the rattlesnake venom is more toxic, but it appears that way because the symptoms and the wounds we’re seeing are worse than in the past,” said Clark, who also is medical director for the San Diego office of the California Poison Control System.

Last year, 40 people in the county were treated for rattlesnake bites, according to the county Emergency Medical Services, compared with 30 people in 2010, 27 people in 2009 and 24 people in 2008.

And the numbers have jumped this year, with 15 people treated for rattlesnake bites in the first four months of 2012, including 10 people just in April, county records show. For the same period in 2011, four people were bitten.

Clark said he wasn’t surprised that the number jumped in April, when warm weather draws out both snakes and hikers to the county’s backcountry. And while toxin levels in the venom typically are stronger during the summer when snakes are active, no one knows why it may be getting more potent.

“Some speculate that with the modern world encroaching on nature, it could be survival of the fittest. Perhaps only the strongest, most venomous snakes survive,” Clark said.

“A snake’s venom also changes depending on what it’s eating and the temperature of the day. That makes every bite difficult to predict.”

While about a quarter of bites may be “dry” or not contain venom, a venomous bite can be serious or deadly. Symptoms of severe bites, which are always painful, usually start quickly and can include nausea, blurred vision, and then swelling in the mouth and throat that can make breathing difficult. Within minutes, victims can get lightheaded, collapse and go into shock.

“For anyone who suspects a bite, their next move should be to a hospital emergency department,” Clark said.

Patients are given a series of antivenin shots, which cost about $2,500 per vial, and remain hospitalized until they’re stabilized, he said.

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