“Watch out for rattlesnakes!” is an often-tossed warning from one hiker to another during spring and summertime in the West. But this year, winter may bring more dangers from venomous reptiles, USA Today reports.
In a recent study, researchers found snakebites peak during El Niño events. This winter is expected to produce one of the most intense El Niño weather patterns in history, bringing heavy rain and aiming much of its wrath on the west coasts of North and Central America. It could bring welcome relief to drought-stricken regions.
But snakes? Really?
Snakebites affect more people than one might think: 2.5 million are bitten annually worldwide. Nearly 100,000 are killed by the bites and another 500,000 suffer serious medical complications. People in living in poorer and more rural areas have a higher likelihood of being bitten, according to the study published in the journal Science Advances.
Researchers examined environmental and health consequences associated with extreme weather fluctuations and focused much of their research on Costa Rica, where snakebite records are methodically kept because of mandatory reporting.
In the United States, venomous snakes include rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths/water moccasins, and coral snakes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 7,000 and 8,000 people are bitten each year in the U.S., with about five on average dying as a result. “The number of deaths would be much higher if people did not seek medical care,” the CDC said.
Heavy rains often disturb snake populations, placing them into closer contact with humans. In 2013, Georgia reported an increase in snakebites after rainfall plagued the area. Half of the bites were from venomous snakes, such as copperheads and rattlesnakes.
Many times, snakes find their way into homes after deluges of rain in an effort to stay dry and alive. Flood safety organizations say floods often force snakes into places where they’re usually not found.
As the rainy state of Washington points out, if a snake gets into your house or other building, remain calm to avoid disturbing it and forcing it into hiding. You can also take these steps to prevent snake intrusions:
• Seal all ground-level holes and cracks to prevent entry.
• Check for cracks and holes in building foundations and exterior walls, including warped siding, where a small snake could enter.
• Cover door bottoms, especially on garages, with metal flashing or another material.
• Clear outdoor areas of rock piles, woodpiles and tall grass. This not only limits hiding places but also reduces the habitat used by mice and other rodents, a food source for snakes.
• Fence off areas where rattlesnakes are commonly encountered.
If you get bitten by a snake, medical professionals advise going to a hospital immediately. They say common myths of sucking the venom out, using a tourniquet and icing the bite wound are not effective and can make matters worse — even deadly.
Not all snakes are venomous. Still, since climate models are pointing to a wicked El Niño season, there is no reason to chance encounters with these creatures.
Don’t just prepare for inclement weather, prepare for what may come slithering along with it.