Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Snakebite deaths still rare, but are mounting

The recent death of a Chino Valley woman bitten by a rattlesnake is raising awareness of potentially life-threatening bites as Arizonans flock outdoors because of cooler temperatures.

Although rattlesnakes are more active in warm months and usually dormant during the winter, this is the time of year when rattlers sun themselves during the mornings after chilly nights, said Susan Quayle, a spokeswoman for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

Paulden resident Jackie Ledwell, 63, was bitten Saturday afternoon while out on a walk. She was treated by Chino Valley firefighters at her home, then taken to a Flagstaff hospital, where she died a day later, officials said.

The snake, identified as a Mojave rattlesnake, was found and killed by Yavapai County animal-control officers.

Experts say the Mojave rattlesnake has venom considered 10 times as toxic as other North American rattlesnakes, making it one of the most dangerous poisonous snakes in the United States.

The snake lives mainly in the high desert and lower mountain slopes and usually is found in scattered scrubby growth such as creosote bushes and mesquite.

“While snakebites are not uncommon, deaths from rattlesnake bites are rare,” Quayle said. Since 2002, Arizona has had about one snakebite death a year, said Jude McNally, managing director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of Arizona. That’s up from 1985 to 2000, when there was a reported death about every five years, McNally said. In the United States, deaths remain rare, according to a study by Dr. Brian James Daley of the University of Tennessee School of Medicine that was updated last year. A review of 20 years of data identified 97 snakebite fatalities, including 17 in Texas, 14 in Florida and 12 in Georgia.

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