DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So this winter was pretty warm and pretty wet across much of the United States. And for most states, this means not only more greenery, but also more rodents and more snakes. So how can you try and avoid snakes if you're not a fan, and what do you do if you are bitten? Here's NPR's Patti Neighmond.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The snakes we worry about the most are pit vipers, copperheads, water moccasins and rattlesnakes.
(SOUNDBITE OF RATTLESNAKE RATTLING)
GERAD FOX: So right now he's in a classic strike posture, very defensive.
NEIGHMOND: He's curled up.
FOX: Yeah. He's in a coil with a S-curve on his neck so - ready to strike.
NEIGHMOND: I'm with biologist Gerad Fox in a woodsy, snake-friendly area in Southern California. Fox works with K9 Loft, a company which runs rattlesnake avoidance classes. He trains dogs how to avoid snakes, whose rattle, for them and for us, is a warning.
FOX: They don't want to hurt us. We are way too big. They cannot eat us. So it's purely defensive.
NEIGHMOND: My dog, Baxter, took this training class, but I wanted to know how humans can avoid snakes. So I asked ER doctor Mark Morocco to join me on a hike.
MARK MOROCCO: Come on, Baxter.
NEIGHMOND: Baxter, come.
MOROCCO: Try to keep your dog on a leash, and then you're less likely to have Baxter get bit by a snake.
Come on, Baxter.
NEIGHMOND: Morocco works at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He says, the No. 1 rule when hiking in snake territory, stay on the trail.
MOROCCO: You want to be able to see your feet. Don't get off into the high brush on the sides of the trail because that's where the snakes are going to be. And they're going to be harder to see.
NEIGHMOND: And if you're rock climbing, watch where you put your hands. The next important thing to think about, what you wear on your feet.
MOROCCO: It is Los Angeles, and so you will see people on trails like this in flip-flops.
NEIGHMOND: Not a good idea.
MOROCCO: Most people would argue that you should be wearing boots with high sides if you're in a place where there are lots of snakes. I would just prefer that you least wear shoes. (Laughter). And we do see some barefoot people who come into the emergency department. You're saying you were barefoot where?
NEIGHMOND: Wearing long pants can also help since most adults get bitten in the lower leg. Every year, there are thousands of snake bites in the U.S., many involving children.
MOROCCO: I've seen a number of patients in my career, little kids, who have been bit on the face or the dominant hand because that's what kids do. They see this thing, and they reach out to touch it and, bang, they get a snake bite.
NEIGHMOND: A bite on the face is more serious than a bite on the leg or hand, and children can get very sick very quickly. If someone gets bitten, Morocco says, call 911 immediately.
MOROCCO: It looks like a burn and an infection all in one. So you have swelling and blistering, and you can have some bleeding and some redness. That's when we know there's a lot of venom in the bite.
NEIGHMOND: Antivenin drugs are highly effective, which is why you should get to a hospital as soon as possible. In the meantime...
MOROCCO: Don't do anything that you see on the movies and TV - tourniquets, and cutting an X over the thing and sucking the venom out dramatically. None of that has any effect on the outcome of snake bites.
NEIGHMOND: Instead, stay calm - motionless, if possible - to slow down the distribution of snake venom in your body.
MOROCCO: When you get injected with snake venom, it's just like getting a shot. So the harder your heart beats, the higher your circulation, the more mixing blood and venom and moving it around. So we want to keep it as localized to where the snake bite is as possible.
NEIGHMOND: Ideally, lay flat on the ground until the ambulance arrives. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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