WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
KELOWNA -A young girl and a few pets have already come painfully close to the Okanagan's most common snake this summer—the northern Pacific rattlesnake.
Interior Health confirmed that a young girl was rushed to Kelowna General Hospital last Friday evening after getting bit by the highly venomous snake. The girl was treated with several doses of antivenom and discharged after recovering. Last week one Penticton pet owner's love for their dog was put to the test. A near-lethal bite to the dog's face called for an aggressive round of antibiotics to avoid a staggering bill for antivenom.
Biologist Scott Alexander works as a private ecosystems consultant and was singlehandedly responsible for writing the safety management protocol for rattlesnakes in the region. The reptile is not to be trifled with, he says.
“It's a very virulent species, probably in the top 70 per cent for its potency of venom.”
That being said, rattlesnake bites in B.C. are a rare occurence. Those bitten typically crossed a line with the snake by handling or bothering them.
“The bites are almost without fail on hands or forearms, which means people are basically molesting them,” Alexander says. While children sometimes don't know any better, the majority of bites are reported amongst young men. About 95 per cent of bites happen with men between the ages of 12 and 30.
"It's young men looking for some kind of macho experience trying to impress their friends or girlfriends - but end up in hospital," Alexander says.
Last he heard of a female being bitten was a young girl hiking in the Naramata Valley in flip flops. Alexander advises wearing hiking boots and pants if foraging in the wilderness.
But should the reptile's fangs pierce your flesh, our regional hospitals carry a monovalent antivenom formulated exclusively for the species.
"You could literally call it miraculous,” Alexander says. The antivenom is almost 100 per cent effective and can banish symptoms in only 15 to 30 minutes.
But miracles don't come cheap. Just one vial of the magic formula is valued at $1,000.
"You could spend quite easily in excess of $30,000 on antivenom alone."
When it comes to treating pets, paying out of pocket for the treatment might not be an option. Often the cost is so prohibitive, alternatives likes antibiotics and blood transfusions are first administered.
So how should you react if in close quarters with a snake?
Simply step away.
"They can only strike a third the length of their body," Alexander says, and taking one step back is enough to move you out of harm's way.
"They're not aggressive and wont pursue you."
And if you or your pet happens to be in danger - you'll get a head's up.
"If taken by surprise they will rattle, they give you warning with a very distinctive buzzing sound," Alexander says.
In rattlesnake country, it's wise advice all members of the public should heed.
Their habitat stretches from Kamloops and Vernon down to Osoyoos, along the East side of the lakes, but will be harder to spot from September to April during hibernation.
"They're a very common and very successful species in the Okanagan."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)718-0428.