Rattlesnake poison can kill large animals and humans, but rattlesnake bites in humans are very seldom deadly. The United States typically sees about 8,000 rattlesnake bites per year, but only about a dozen of those victims ultimately succumb to the poison. Even if death doesn't occur, rattlesnake poison can lead to blood clotting problems and tissue damage, and some species of rattlesnake secrete a venom that can cause paralysis. Many rattlesnake bites are known as "dry bites," or bites in which the snake fails to secrete venom. Snakes typically use dry bites as a self-defense mechanism, while fully venomous bites are often reserved for hunting prey.
The danger of a rattlesnake bite generally varies depending on the species of the snake. The Western Diamondback rattlesnake, native to the southwestern deserts of North America, is considered one of the most dangerous snakes on that continent, even though it is not considered the most venomous. The Mojave rattlesnake, whose venom is capable of causing paralysis in humans, is also considered quite dangerous. Other snakes, such as the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, have more toxic venom, but are generally considered less of a threat, because they are, as a species, usually less aggressive and less likely to attack.
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It is believed that bites from wild rattlesnakes are relatively rare. Experts believe that most rattlesnake bites, at least in developed countries such as the United States, come from pet rattlesnakes. Snake owners may inadvertently anger snakes while handling them, causing bites.
Rattlesnakes typically do not strike at humans or other large animals unless they feel extremely threatened. Even when rattlesnakes do strike at humans, they often do so simply as a self-defensive maneuver, to give themselves time to escape. These bites often don't inject any rattlesnake poison into the victim's flesh.
Improper first aid treatment may often be partially to blame for the negative consequences of rattlesnake bites. Folk remedies for snake bites typically endorse attempting to draw out the rattlesnake poison by cutting or sucking the bite wound. Other popular myths state that placing a tourniquet above the bite area, chilling the bite area with ice, or even applying electricity to the bite area, can stop the spread of rattlesnake poison throughout the body. In fact, these treatments can further complicate the emergency, increasing the bite victim's risk of infection, tissue damage, and loss of limbs.
The symptoms of rattlesnake bite can take several hours to appear. Emergency medical help should typically be sought right away. In general, the longer the wait for medical help, the more dangerous the poison becomes. The victim should generally be kept calm and still until help arrives. With appropriate treatment, almost all rattlesnake bite victims recover within a few weeks.