Warm weather means rattlesnakes out early

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SAN DIEGO -- The unseasonably warm winter in San Diego means rattlesnakes are out earlier – including one that bit a local woman in her backyard.

Rebecca Mackinlay was bitten by a rattlesnake on a Saturday morning in the backyard of her Del Sur home. The 8 to 9-year-old snake, hiding near a storage bin, struck at Mackinlay's ring finger -- but she did not hear a rattle or see the snake.

Within minutes, Mackinlay's finger became swollen and she became increasingly thirsty -- both symptoms of rattlesnake bites. With her 4 and 6-year-old daughters in tow, she rushed to her neighbor's home and called 911.

Mackinlay said in the next 10 minutes, she could not feel her arms and legs and could feel her face involuntarily twitch. She was given anti-venom as soon as she arrived at a nearby hospital, where she spent four days in the Intensive Care Unit. By the second day, she could feel her limbs.

Doctors said she did the right thing by calling for an emergency unit as quickly as she did.

To prevent a similar attack, Dan DeSousa, deputy director at the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services, suggests homeowners clear debris and piles of wood from around homes, as rattlesnakes tend to hide in those areas. Dog and cat food and bird feed should be kept indoors, not left out or scattered around houses. Food tends to attract rodents, which in turn attracts snakes.

Hikers should be aware of their surroundings and keep dogs on leashes no longer than 6 feet. Dogs on longer leashes could be attacked by rattlesnakes that are startled during a hike. DeSousa says anyone who is approached by a snake should stay calm and slowly back away, then call animal control. If bitten, call 911 immediately.

Mackinlay pays close attention to her surroundings while in her backyard. She said she always wears shoes and checks out the lot before her children are allowed to play in the back.