By Mary O’KEEFE
A young girl is nursing a painful reminder that California is “rattlesnake country” after she encountered one while hiking with fellow campers at Tom Sawyer Camps on Monday. The girl was bitten on the ankle by a rattlesnake while hiking on a road in the Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena.
“They were having fun, singing and playing,” said Sarah Horner Fish, executive director of the Tom Sawyer Camps. “[The young girl] was just walking. She did nothing to provoke an attack.”
The camp counselors responded immediately once the girl was bitten. The staff is trained in several areas including how to deal with the natural habitat and wildlife “like snakes, coyotes and whatever wildlife live in our backyard,” she added. “Our staff gets extensive training.”
The park is in Pasadena; the city’s fire department was contacted and the girl was transported to the hospital.
California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife information officer Janice Mackey said each year around this time the department gets several calls concerning snakes, particularly rattlesnakes.
“Warm [weather] brings out the snakes. It doesn’t have to be [really hot],” she said. “Most of California is snake country. There are six venomous snakes found in California and all of them are of the rattlesnake species.” Rattlesnakes are not aggressive, she added, and do not generally hide and strike out as people walk past.
She added snakes are helpful in controlling the rodent population.
There are times when rattlesnakes act out of the ordinary and strike without provocation, as was the reported case at Tom Sawyer Camps. Dr. John Rodarte, a pediatrician in La Cañada Flintridge, has not seen anyone who has been bitten by a rattlesnake so far this year but he does have some suggestions if anyone is bitten.
“You want to immobilize the area [of the bite] to decrease the circulation of the poison,” he said.
A rattlesnake victim should try to remain calm, to keep the poison from circulating throughout the body. Try to keep the injured area, like a hand or arm, at the level of the heart, he suggested.
“And don’t run, running increases the heart rate,” Rodarte said.
The old adage of cutting the area of the bite and sucking out the poison or using a tourniquet is no longer the advice given by doctors. Getting to the hospital as soon as possible is what is advised. Rodarte said unless there is an allergic reaction, most snakebites are not life threatening; however, it is very important to get medical treatment as soon as possible.
“If you are hiking up in the mountains it might take you as long as an hour to get to the hospital,” he said.
Rodarte is also a member of the Montrose Search and Rescue.
“When we were up in the Buckhorn Campground [in Angeles National Forest] training, I saw three or four rattlesnakes in one day,” he said.
Horner Fish suggested wearing hiking boots, not sandals, when walking along hiking paths and to be aware of one’s surroundings.
“Don’t jump over a log but look over it first,” she said.
The city of Glendale has a webpage devoted to snake safety. Its suggestions include: Walk in areas where the ground is clear, be aware of where you sit, especially in shady areas, wear protective clothing, like long pants and long sleeve shirts and never reach into cracks in rocks, animal burrows or under bushes.
“Snakes should be respected and not feared,” Horner Fish said. “They are just trying to survive.”
For more information on snake safety, visit the Glendale city website at www.glendaleca.gov.