A 6-year-old Colorado boy died after a rattlesnake bite: What to know if you're bitten

Miles Blumhardt
Fort Collins Coloradoan
  • A 6-year-old boy died after a rattlesnake bite in Colorado.
  • Do you know what to do, or not to do, if someone is bit by a rattlesnake?
  • Here's a look at what you need to know.

A 6-year-old boy died as a result of a rattlesnake bite near Colorado Springs, Colorado, prompting warnings about what you should and should not do if you or your pet is bitten by the venomous snake.

The boy was bitten in Security-Widefield on July 5 and died Saturday, according to Colorado Springs TV station KRDO.

Fatal rattlesnake bites are rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 7,000 to 8,000 people a year in the USA are bitten by venomous snakes, resulting in about five deaths a year. In Colorado, the most recent fatal rattlesnake bite before last week's was in 2017, when a 31-year-old Colorado man died after being bitten near Golden.

The boy's death prompted Colorado Parks and Wildlife to release the below lists of what to do – and what not to do – after a rattlesnake bite, according to the HerpMed website, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and American Red Cross.

World:Snakes, armadillos, porcupines and more: Airport X-ray finds 109 live animals in luggage

Health:Some ticks can cause a red meat allergy. What to know about tick-borne diseases, removal.

What to do if a person is bitten by a rattlesnake

  • If the snake is still in the vicinity, move carefully to a safe location.
  • If you can do it safely, take a photo of the snake for identification. Rattlesnakes do not have a sharply pointed tail; rather, the tail  has rounded buttons. Also, the head of a rattlesnake is wider than its body.
  • Find a place where the victim can lie flat and rest comfortably and encourage the person to remain calm and offer reassurance.
  • If in a group, send one member to notify local emergency staff and the nearest hospital. Do not leave the victim alone. Carry a cellphone with you.
  • Allow the bite to bleed freely for about 30 seconds, then cleanse and disinfect the bite area with Betadine (iodine) or soap and water.
  • If hospital treatment is more than 30 minutes away and the bite is on a hand, finger, foot or lower arm or leg, a wide elastic bandage can be used as a pressure dressing.
  • Wrap the bandage quickly from an area just above the bite past the knee or elbow joint, immobilizing it. Wrap no tighter than for a sprain. The goal is to restrict the movement of venom into the bloodstream without cutting off circulation to the limb. Check for pulse above and below bandage and rewrap if too tight.
  • Apply direct pressure to the bite using a 4-by-4-inch gauze pad folded in half twice. Soak the pad in iodine and tape it in place.
  • Remove all rings, watches, jewelry and tight-fitting clothing from the bite area, because most of the bitten appendage will swell.
  • Immobilize the bitten extremity as much as possible, using splints if necessary.
  • Try to keep the bite location even with the heart. Raising it above the heart will increase the spread of venom into the body, and swelling will increase if it's kept below heart level.
  • After administering first aid, take the victim to the nearest hospital or medical facility.  Have  someone call ahead to the nearest hospital so it will be prepared.

A rabbit with horns? Why some of these critters look like a real-life 'jackalope'

What not to do if a person is bitten by a rattlesnake

  • Do not assume that a bite is not serious or that treatment can be delayed.
  • Do not apply oral suction to the bite. Such action could introduce harmful bacteria into the wound that could cause sepsis.
  • Do not make any sort of incision into or around the bite marks. This will only increase trauma to the bite location.
  • Do not apply a narrow, constrictive tourniquet such as a belt, shoelace or cord. Restricting blood flow that way puts the bitten extremity at a high risk for amputation.
  • Do not engage in strenuous physical activity. This will only speed the spread of venom to vital organs.
  • Do not apply ice or hot or cold packs to the bite. Those have not proven beneficial and may compound tissue damage through burns or frostbite.
  • Do not allow the victim to take aspirin or use any medication.
  • Do not give the victim anything to eat or drink unless approved by a physician.
  • Do not remove pressure dressings until antivenom is available.
  • Do not waste time or take any additional risks trying to kill or capture the snake.

What to do (and not) if your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake

  • Move a safe distance from the snake and calm the dog.
  • Clean the wound with soap and water and treat with antibiotic ointment if available.
  • A Sawyer or other venom extractor should not be used because the dog’s hair will prevent a good seal from forming.
  • Limit physical exertion and get the animal to veterinary care immediately, calling ahead if possible.

What to do if you encounter a rattlesnake

  • Snakes are often heard before they are seen. If you hear a rattlesnake, freeze in place until you or a companion can see it. Trying to move away from a snake you can’t see may lead you closer to it.
  • Even if the snake can be seen, not moving will reduce the threat you pose to the snake and help you calmly assess the situation.
  • Once you assess the situation, establish a safe distance. Rattlesnakes can strike to a distance of half their body length. A good rule of thumb is to put at least 5 feet between yourself and the snake.
  • Move by slowly backing the way you came.
  • Do not under any circumstances try to catch, kill, provoke or move a rattlesnake. Many people who suffer snakebites are bitten as a result of trying to handle or kill the snake.
  • Move around the rattlesnake at a safe distance.

A New Jersey man was working on his driveway:He discovered a trove of money from the 1930s

How to avoid a rattlesnake bite

  • Wear sturdy leather boots, which afford good protection for the feet and ankles. 
  • Watch where you place feet and hands at all times, especially around logs and rocks where rattlesnakes shelter.
  • Do not use headphones or ear buds, because a rattlesnake usually warns if you are too close by making a rattling sound.
  • Be especially aware of rattlesnakes around dusk, when snakes become active hunting and human visibility drops.
  • If the snake coils up and rattles, you are too close and should move away slowly. Stepping back just a few feet can be enough to show the snake that you are not a threat. Most rattlesnakes will not strike at people unless they feel threatened or are provoked.

Follow reporter Miles Blumhardt on Twitter: @MilesBlumhardt.