Summer is almost here and it’s a great time to hit the trails, take in the beautiful scenery of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. With over 50 miles of private hiking and equestrian trails on the Peninsula, it’s like having a park in your back yard! There are a couple things for you to keep an eye out for to keep your hikes pleasant:
As the weather warms up, we are seeing lots of new growth and blossoms on the trails. So be aware of poison oak (toxicodendron diversilobum). Its leaves contain a compound that causes a rash on human skin.
Poison oak is widespread throughout the mountains and valleys of California. (Poison ivy is found in Eastern U.S.) It thrives in shady canyons and riparian habitats. It commonly grows as a climbing vine with aerial (adventitious) roots that adhere to the trunks of oaks and sycamores.
Symptoms of contact with poison oak are commonly streaky rash with red bumps that turn into weeping blisters. The rash may last 1-3 weeks, but the symptoms usually peak between the 4th – 7th days.2
First Aid for Poison Oak Exposure
1. Strip off clothing and place them in a plastic garbage bag. Get into a shower as quickly as possible and wash skin with cool water and soap that does not contain oils. Washing the resins from the poison plants off your skin within 30 minutes of exposure can prevent most allergic reactions. You can apply rubbing alcohol or OTC cleansers to skin to dissolve poison oak oils. If you are outdoors without access to either a shower or cleansers, then rinse your body off in a running stream. Scrub under fingernails with a toothbrush. Discard toothbrush afterwards.
2. Avoid scratching the rash and blisters. Breaking the skin allows bacterial to enter the wound.
3. Cool off. Apply cold compresses or icepack for 10-15 minutes. Also allow the area to dry instead of rubbing it with a towel if you get the rash wet.
4. Take a lukewarm bath. Use an oatmeal bath product or an aluminum acetate soak.
5. Apply topical creams or lotions. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can provide some relief from itching.
6. Take antihistamines if topical remedies don’t work. These medications can be taken orally or applied as a cream. Antihistamines generally offer only mild relief from the symptoms of poison ivy, but if you take oral medications before bedtime, their combination of anti-itch and drowsiness-inducing effects can help you get some rest.
The second thing to stay alert for are rattlesnakes. The most common species in this area is crotalus oreganus helleri, aka Southern Pacific Rattlesnake.
Rattlesnake bites are the leading cause of snakebite injuries in North America. However, rattlesnakes rarely bite unless provoked or threatened; and if treated promptly, the bites are rarely fatal. The most important factor in survival following a severe envenomation is the amount of time elapsed between the bite and treatment. If antivenom treatment is given within 2 hours of the bite, the probability of recovery is greater than 99%.1
Here is some advice from Chris White, DVM, a local mobile veterinarian (PetVetOnTheGo.com) on how to avoid the risk of snake bites, for you and your dog that may accompany you on your hikes:
1. Know your environment. Rattlesnakes aren’t typically in areas where there is a lot of foot traffic, although they will occasionally sun themselves in the middle of an open trail. If you and your pet go into grassy fields and trails, there will be a higher likelihood for rattlesnake exposure.
2. Keep control of your dog at all times: It’s fun to let your pet run and explore, however, all it might take is your pet putting his or her nose into a wood pile in response to the sound of a rattle, and it’s too late. Make sure dogs are controlled on a leash at all times in rattlesnake populated areas.
3. Rattlesnakes are reptiles and require constant thermoregulation of their body heat. Avoid rattlesnake environments by hiking in the morning. As the sun rises, the snakes will be sunning themselves to warm up for the day, and may be more likely to be in the open. Also, avoid twilight and early evenings in these areas, in that this is prime hunting time for these snakes, and they are more likely to be foraging for their dinner. Finally, rattlesnakes, may not be out in the open as much during a hot day, as they may easily overheat; they will typically be burrowed in gopher holes, or under protective brush, wood, wood piles, or rock piles. Avoid such areas during the day.
4. If you regularly go to places where rattlesnakes are present, consider going to your veterinarian and getting your pet the rattlesnake vaccine. It is a series of two vaccines 1 month apart. It will give you and your pet additional time to get to your vet for comprehensive medical assistance in the event that your pet is bitten. In following years, the vaccine is done on an annual basis to maintain protection.
Hikers are advised to keep their distance when encountering a rattlesnake on a trail and allow the snake room to retreat. Caution is advised even when snakes are believed to be dead; rattlesnake heads can see, flick the tongue, and inflict venomous bites for up to an hour after being severed from the body.
In the case that you are bitten, the recommended emergency response is the following, although data on the effectiveness of first aid techniques for rattlesnake bites is limited:
1. Remain calm and retreat from the snake at least 15 feet. Arrange to have the victim transported to a medical facility as soon as possible.
2. Remove restrictive clothing items (rings, bracelets, watches, buttoned shirts, etc.) from the victim.
3. Splint or otherwise immobilize any bitten limbs and keep them below heart level. If (and only if) the victim is more than 1 hour away from a medical facility place a lightly constricting band (that admits one finger beneath it) above the bitten area to prevent the systemic spread of the venom.
4. Keep victims calm; put them at rest; keep them warm and give them comfort and reassurance (which will lower their heart rate, slowing the spread of the venom). Keeping a victim’s heart rate down, however, this should never interfere with getting him or her to a medical facility.1
In no case should tourniquets be used, nor should any incisions or suction be applied to the wound.
I hope this helps you enjoy and stay safe on your hikes! Happy Trails!