Rattlesnakes and ticks
"They would much rather be left alone, given the chance,"
Norris said. "They," in this instance, are northern Pacific
rattlesnakes, Northern California's only native species of venomous snake.
An internationally recognized expert on venomous snake bites, Norris
said that the Bay Area has a healthy population of these pit vipers.
They are generally active April through September but will sometimes
emerge from hibernating in places like rodent holes, crevices and rock
piles on warm winter or late-autumn days to sun themselves. "They
are not deep hibernators," Norris said.
You can find them in grasslands, the woods, on hiking trails—
"really, just about anywhere," Norris said. "I've seen
some patients who were bitten in Palo Alto; one was in her garden when
If a rattlesnake crosses your path, give it the right of way. If
it's not moving, you can walk around it, making sure to stay at least
several feet away, he said. The good news is that these snakes are not
aggressive: If they feel threatened, they will generally try to
slither away or give their infamous warning rattle (one caveat: some
may have lost or not yet grown rattles). Their venom is fairly toxic,
but very few people actually die from bites. Annually, there are some
8,000 venomous snake bites nationwide, resulting in only about six
deaths, Norris said.
To prevent bites, look where you're putting your feet and hands.
Wear hiking shoes and long pants, Norris said. "Be alert, and
don't step over logs," he added. "If you're going through
tall grass, use a walking stick to probe in front of you. The snake
will often let you know it's there."
If you're bitten, get medical care as soon as you can. If possible,
call 9-1-1 and immobilize the affected extremity using a splint, but
don't compress the wound, Norris said. "Don't worry about other
first aid," he said. "If you're in the wilderness, do
whatever you need to get to a hospital, even if it means walking for a
couple of hours. Time is the issue." As long as bite victims are
given antivenom within a few hours, their lives are rarely in danger,