JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The death of a 6-year-old boy from a rattlesnake bite in Colorado Springs is prompting renewed warnings about the dangers of wildlife in Colorado.
The boy was on a bicycle ride with his family last week when he encountered a rattlesnake. Despite medical treatment, he died a few days later.
“Often what happens with a rattlesnake bite is severe swelling and pain and those sorts of things, but death is unusual,” Jefferson County Open Space Park Ranger Mary Ann Bonnell said.
According to Bonnell, bites most often turn fatal when the victim has an underlying condition or allergy they may be unaware of.
“Where you’re bitten is also really important. So if you’re bitten on an extremity, your signs and symptoms are going to be less than say if you’re bitten on the neck or the face, which is why bites to dogs are exceptionally hard, because they’re often bitten on the face and that swelling can close an airway pretty quickly,” Bonnell said.
Where you may see rattlesnakes in Colorado
Rattlesnake habitat is from the foothills east to the Kansas border. They are often seen sunning themselves on rocks or trails in the spring and fall. While they are still present in the summer, they can be much harder to spot.
“So when you have these very hot days, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to see snakes. It’s going to mean they’re hidden,” Bonnell said.
She says on hot days, rattlesnakes hide in shady spots like under bushes, in between rocks or even in the shadows of vehicles. Snakes may bite your hand or foot if you unknowingly reach into their hiding spot.
If you encounter a snake on a trail or other area you are traveling through, Bonnell suggests following the “30-30” rule: Back up at least 30 feet and wait at least 30 seconds for the snake to move along before proceeding.
In some cases, you may simply have to turn back toward where you came from.
While most rattlesnakes prefer to be alone, a sighting of one snake may also indicate the presence of multiple other snakes nearby. For example, pregnant female snakes stay in groups. A female waiting to mate may attract multiple male snakes around her. And in August, after snakes have given birth, the mother will be accompanied by anywhere between three and 21 of her newborns.
What to do if you suffer a rattlesnake bite
In case of a bite, experts say the most important thing is to not panic.
“Don’t try to run around and do a bunch of things because you’re going to be moving that venom through your body,” Bonnell said. “The most important thing, and it seems opposite, is stay calm and call 911.”
Snake bite kits, tourniquets and sucking out the venom is not recommended, as they may do more harm than good. Instead, sit down with the bite location in a neutral position, elevated at or slightly below the heart. Remove watches, rings or other jewelry that may cut off circulation if the area swells.
She also says it is imperative to seek medical attention even if you believe you have no symptoms, as symptoms can have a delayed onset or the bite marks can become infected.
Finally, Bonnell recommends parents talk to their children about safety in the outdoors, including about rattlesnakes. The goal is not to scare them, but to help them understand why they must stay on the trail, why it is unsafe to stick hands in holes and why they must remain within arm’s reach of an adult at all times.