The Doctor Is In

Q: Now that it’s summer, I am on high alert watching out for rattlesnakes, ticks and black widow spiders. In the case that I get bit by one of them, what are some things I should know?

Rattlesnakes, ticks and black widow spiders … oh my! This almost seems like a column for Halloween rather than the start of summer!

But, alas, this is indeed the time to be on high alert. Let’s start our discussion with the slithering serpents.

With the coming of the warmer weather conditions, snakes of many species are through hunkering down and more of us are on the hiking trails of the Palisades, making a chance encounter with a rattlesnake more likely.

Generally not aggressive, rattlers will likely retreat if given room and not provoked, and most bites occur when the snake is accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing. Rattlesnake bites are a medical emergency, as their venom will damage tissue and affect your circulatory system by destroying skin tissues and blood cells and by causing internal hemorrhage.

If you get bit, seek medical attention as quickly as possible and call for an ambulance if you are able to. Stay as still as you can, as movement will increase your blood flow and the venom will circulate faster.

Remove any tight clothing or jewelry before you start to swell. Let the wound bleed, as some venom may come out this way. Do not wash the wound because the medical team may be able to use some of the venom from the skin to quickly identify the correct treatment.

Further tips would be to not cut the wound, which just might lead to an infection, and do not try to suck out the venom, which would only introduce venom in your mouth and could further contaminate the wound with mouth bacteria.

Do not use a tourniquet, ice or raise the bitten area above the level of your heart. Finally, do not panic, as this would only increase your heart rate and circulate the venom faster. Easier said than done!

In discussing the bloodsucking ticks, it is not the tick bite itself that is the concern … it is the possible transmission of bacterial illnesses such as Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis, to name but a few.

In terms of transmitting Lyme disease, the tick generally has to be attached to you for 36 hours. Other diseases, however, can be transmitted much more quickly.

Most tick bites are painless and only cause minor symptoms such as redness, swelling or a sore on the skin. Once you see the tick, it is important to remove the tick promptly and carefully, using tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible.

Wash your hands and the bite site, and seek medical attention if you are not able to remove the entire tick. Watch for signs of a large bull’s-eye rash, or if you develop fevers, chills, joint pain, severe headache, difficulty breathing or paralysis.

Finally, black widow spiders are more active at night, and they prefer dark places like garages or under a pile of branches. Only the females bite and only if disturbed.

These angry arachnids also produce venom that can affect your nervous system and some people (especially kids) are more affected than others. If you are bitten by a spider, wash the area with soap and water, apply ice, and elevate the bite location.

Apply antibiotic cream to avoid possible infection. Kill and capture the spider if you can so you can bring it to your doctor to properly identify it. Seek medical attention if you have any symptoms such as muscle pains or stiffness, nausea or vomiting, or weakness or tremors.

With all that said, you should still get out there in the fresh coastal air and enjoy. Just keep your eyes peeled for these pesky critters and use common sense.