Hiker bitten by rattler during Dunbar hiking trip
A Fayette County man who was bitten by a rattlesnake Sunday while hiking in the mountains near Dunbar had to walk for an hour back to his vehicle before he could get a cell phone signal and call 911, authorities said.
The victim was identified as Richard Lawson, 47, of Perryopolis, by Tribune-Review news partner WPXI Channel 11. Last evening he remained in stable condition at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W. Va., according to a nursing supervisor.
Rick Adobato, Fayette EMS director, said the victim and his wife were hiking with their two teenage children Sunday when he dropped his walking stick. When he bent over to retrieve it, a rattlesnake bit him on his right middle finger, Adobato said.
Adobato said the family had to hike back to their vehicle before they could call 911.
"Even when they got back to the car from near the state gamelands on Dunbar Mountain, they had to drive out to get any signal at all," Adobato said. He did not release the victim's name because of medical privacy laws.
The victim and his family drove to the Fayette EMS station at the Fayette County Fairgrounds at 2:30 p.m.
"It was over an hour (since the bite), and he was pretty sick at that point," Adobato said. "He had a huge reaction to the snake bite.
"He was nauseated; his blood pressure was dropping. He had all the symptoms and trauma related to a snake bite. There's very little we can do at that point except provide him with IV fluids to treat the dehydration and treat the nausea," Adobato said.
Within five minutes, the man was transported to nearby Joseph A. Hardy-Connellsville Airport and was airlifted to the West Virginia hospital. He had been listed in critical condition, according to authorities.
"He had to walk out for an hour, and that really made his condition with that venom working through his system," Adobato said.
Hospital officials told Adobato that the man was treated with antivenin and other medications. His condition was upgraded to stable yesterday.
Adobato said the medical service normally handles "a couple" of snake bites a year.
Dr. Anthony F. Pizon, assistant medical director for the Pittsburgh Poison Center, noted the first thing doctors look for in snake bite patients are the signs of envenomation, or poisoning by venom.
"Those signs would include swelling, blisters, oozing of the arm, dead tissue, decreased blood flow. ... But it's not always obvious," said Pizon, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Once doctors confirm that the patient did suffer a poisonous snake bite, Pizon said, an antivenin would be administered.
Snake venom neutralizes the human's ability to clot, "basically causing a dramatic thinning of the blood of people who are bitten," Pizon said.
The antivenin and blood transfusions help to replace the patient's damaged clotting system, he said.
"In Pennsylvania, rarely does anyone ever die from a snake bite. I've treated over a hundred snake bites, and I believe only one patient has died in that period. And that death could mostly be attributed to other health complications," he said.
"Usually, a person who suffers a poisonous snake bite would be more likely to potentially lose a finger or a limb than die," he said.
He estimated the UPMC system sees "two to five" snake bite patients a year.
According to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry, the largest populations of timber rattlesnakes are found in remote, heavily forested regions of Pennsylvania.
Timber rattlesnakes are well camouflaged and are difficult to spot in the forest vegetation.
The frequency of encounters between humans and timber rattlesnakes escalates in July and August when the male snakes actively seek mates.
Take precautions in rattlesnake territory:
-- When walking through unmowed grass and brushy areas, wear loose-fitting, full-length pants and high-topped leather boots. Walk at a normal pace to avoid surprising a snake.
-- Look for rattlesnakes before sitting down or reaching into, over or under bushes, logs or rocks.
-- Be aware that rattlesnakes are attracted to certain structures to hunt for mice and to bask, such as a pile of rocks, logs or boards. They also are found around sheds and equipment.
-- Never attempt to pick up a rattlesnake, even one that appears to be dead.
-- Maintaining a 3-foot buffer around even the largest timber rattlesnakes is sufficient to avoid an effective strike.
In case of a rattlesnake bite:
-- Remain calm and reassure the patient. There have been no deaths in Pennsylvania attributable to timber rattlesnake bites for at least 25 years.
-- If possible, immobilize the affected area and transport the patient immediately to the nearest medical facility.
-- Do not attempt first aid measures such as incision, suction, tourniquets, alcohol or drugs.
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Mark Hoffman of The Daily Courier contributed.