Rattlesnake biting at ARD pool puts residents on alert

Prevention, immediate medical attention advised
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Signs warning residents about the risk of encountering rattlesnakes will be going up soon at Recreation Park, according to Sheryl Petersen, recreation services manger at the Auburn Recreation District. The cautions come as a result of a rattlesnake biting that occurred on June 9, just outside of the pool area. Petersen said that in addition to the warnings, lifeguards have been re-educated on preventing bites and what to do in the event of one. While Petersen said it’s not unusual for there to be sightings at local parks, the timing is a bit out of the ordinary. “With the late rainy season, now they are coming out, which is normal, but we usually see them earlier in the year,” Petersen said. “We put out an alert.” A couple of weeks later, one resident saw recreation district staff searching Recreation Park for any more rattlesnakes. David Barpal, 45, of Auburn, was taking his kids to swim practice when the incident occurred. He said the snake was under a large tree, about 10 to 15 feet from the pool area. “I was just kind of in my own head,” Barpal said. “It just felt like I was stung by a wasp right in the ankle. I was just thinking, ‘what is going to happen next.’ I had no idea.” Barpal said that when the fire department arrived on the scene, they killed the snake and he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Barpal’s emergency room doctor informed him that not all rattlesnake bites are venomous, or require anti-venom treatments. Medical professionals monitor systems to decide if a patient needs the treatment. Barpal said he was lucky enough to avoid it. “They just kind of wait to see what happens. They would have given me the anti-venom, which sounds like it’s pretty nasty stuff,” Barpal said. “My foot got to be a pretty good size, twice the size. After four hours it hadn’t gone up. It was swollen for about two to three days and sore quite a while.” Barpal said he is more aware of his surroundings now, but the bite didn’t stop him from photographing the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run last weekend. Aquatics manager Patty Waschoviak said the snake was only about a foot long, and may have been a baby. She said the lifeguards at the Recreation District Pool are trained to not put the limb above the heart and call 911. “It’s not something we thought would be an issue at pools as much,” Waschoviak said. Lynn Ford, 57 of Auburn, was concerned when she brought six kids with her to the park and saw a staff member checking for rattlesnakes. “I said, ‘what are you looking for?’” Ford said. “And she said, ‘rattlesnakes.’ You don’t think about rattlesnakes being at the park right now. Somebody should put a sign up or tell people.” Erik Angle, registered nurse and emergency preparedness coordinator for Sutter Roseville Medical Center wrote the hospital polices for treating rattlesnake bites. “I grew up in Texas and had a lot of encounters with the critters and really liked them,” Angle said. “I did actually get bit one time.” Angle said it’s important that victims of a rattlesnake bit remain calm and remember that often times the first bite is a warning, containing little or no venom. “They have a finite amount of venom,” Angle said. “They are out to live and keep themselves safe, not ambush us. It’s not like a Saturday night special. You need medical attention to rule out that you have a venomation.” Victims should also avoid using a tourniquet, drinking alcohol or using outdated methods of treating the bites. “The old school method was to cut it and suck out the venom. Don’t do that,” Angle said. “The risk if it’s not taken care of is death.” Angle also said that since a snake’s venom is used in the first stage of its digestion, the venom breaks down a person’s tissue. Whether a patient needs anti-venom, like CroFab used in the Sutter system, is dependent upon if their symptoms worsen. Worsening symptoms would include continuing swelling, rapid heart rate or seizures. Angle said there are things people can do to avoid being bit by a rattlesnake. “If you are out taking a hike, don’t go to hike alone. Stay out of tall grass and don’t wear open toe shoes or flip-flops. Beware that rattlesnakes can swim and they can climb pretty good, almost vertical. If you do see a snake, take two big steps back.” Len Ramirez of Auburn, who own Ramirez Rattlesnake Removal, relocates rattlesnakes on public and private property to remote areas in the Sierras. He has been especially busy this year. Ramirez credits that not to this year’s rainy weather, but that of three years ago. “We are seeing the affects of the rain three years ago. That activates the heavy-breeders,” Ramirez said. “We will see the affect of this year in a couple of years.” Ramirez also said that smaller rattlesnakes can pose more of a threat because they are more difficult to see and may be releasing their venom for the first time. He agrees with Angle that there are some steps people can take to prevent being bitten. “It’s a good idea to keep stuff up off the ground as much as possible. Snakes pick up on the pheromones of mice,” Ramirez said. “Snakes like to hide in the shadows. Rattlesnakes don’t always rattle. Especially if it’s on the cool side a lot of snakes won’t rattle.” Residents should also vaccinate their dogs and horses against rattlesnake venom, according to Ramirez. If residents do encounter a rattlesnake, Ramirez advises they stay still and slowly step back. People can also educate themselves on what non-venomous snakes look like on his website. “Few people die as a result of a snake bit,” Ramirez said. “But nobody wants to become the example.” Reach Sara Seyydin at