Treatment for snake bites is at an unusually high level at Logan Regional Hospital this summer.
On average, the hospital's emergency department treats one to two individuals who have been bitten by rattlesnakes each year. This season, though, six snake bite victims have been treated - including two in the past week.
"This is highly uncommon as far as the number that we've seen," hospital spokeswoman Debbie Ostrander said Monday. "And our emergency department physicians and our hospital, we are urging people to be safe and cautious and just aware when they're out in any location that could have the habitat for snakes."
The victims have either been bitten in Cache County or surrounding areas, with at least one near Bear Lake, Ostrander said.
According to the hospital, there has also been an increase in the number of rattlesnake sightings in residential areas this year.
"Caution is key to safety," said Breck Rushton, director of emergency services at Logan Regional Hospital. "Parents should ensure their children practice safety precautions as well."
Snake bites often happen when a person tries to touch, capture or kill the snake. Bites can also occur when people are not aware of where they walk, sit or place their hands.
Of the six rattlesnake bites this season, two of them occurred when the victims attempted to touch or capture the snakes. The remaining four bites resulted when individuals were walking through brush or climbing rocks - placing their feet or hands in the path of the snake.
According to Rushton, a third of rattlesnake bites are "dry strikes," where the snake breaks the skin but stops short of releasing venom. Two of the six rattlesnake bites witnessed at the hospital were deemed to be dry strikes.
While death from a rattlesnake bite is rare, it can be quite dangerous.
"There are two aspects of concern from a venomous snake bite," said Dr. Ryan J. Stolworthy, emergency medicine physician. "First, there can be extreme swelling, especially of the extremities. Occasionally, extreme surgery is required to remove dead tissue. The venom dissolves muscle and other tissue in the area of the bite. Second, the venom can affect the blood's ability to clot."
Stolworthy notes that victims of snake bites must be observed in the hospital for 48 hours to ensure the person's blood clots normally.
Treatment of snake bites is also extremely costly, according to Stolworthy. Each vial of anti-venom costs approximately $2,000, and four to five vials are needed for the first round of treatment.
Ostrander said the hospital currently has at least 10 vials of anti-venom on hand.
The hospital gives the following guidelines in the case of a snake bite injury:
• Call 911 and get medical help immediately.
• Keep the victim calm, restrict movement, and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
• Wash the bite area with soap and water.
• Remove any rings or constricting items; the affected area will swell.
• Cover the bite with a clean, moist dressing to reduce swelling and discomfort.
• Monitor pulse, temperature, breathing and blood pressure. If there are signs of shock, lay the victim flat and cover with a warm blanket.
• Bring the dead snake into the ER if this can be done without further risk of injury.