Eastern New Mexico has its share of poisonous creatures

Sharna Johnson, Freedom New Mexico

At least five insects and reptiles in eastern New Mexico that are poisonous to humans, according to a retired Eastern New Mexico University biology professor and wildlife author.

They include the brown recluse and black widow spiders and three types of rattlesnake; the prairie, diamondback and Massasauga, Antonio “Tony” Gennaro said.

Additionally, individual reaction to native ant and bee stings can prove fatal, Gennaro said.

Health providers are prepared for bites from native species, keeping antivenins on hand, with the exception of the brown recluse, for which there is no antivenin, according to Pat Baker, Plains Regional Medical Center, Emergency Room charge nurse.

A 22-year-old Clovis zookeeper was bitten by a foot-long Gila Monster last week while he was transferring the venomous lizard to another cage.
Although the Gila Monster does not carry enough venom to kill a human, Cody Machen suffered a severe reaction to the bite and spent several days in an intensive care unit at Plains Regional Medical Center.

Still hospitalized, Machen said Tuesday he was better, but “in a lot of pain,” and doctors are working to find an alternative to surgery to alleviate swelling in his arm and leg.

Machen’s experience is unique because of his direct contact with an otherwise illusive lizard not indigenous to the area.

Sharita Haragan, the victim’s mother, said her son was sedated and give medication to stabilize his heart. According to uspharmacists.com, there is not antivenin for Gila Montser bites.

Baker, a 33-year veteran of nursing, said health care providers seek the advice of University of New Mexico and poison control experts in case’s such as Machen’s.

Rattlesnake bites occur frequently in the area, especially in the fall and warmer months, and black Widow bites, though less common, have occurred, Baker said.

If the biting creature was killed or captured, patients should bring it with them to the hospital, or at least, get a good description, Baker said.
“(But) don’t bring a live snake in because I will not want to look at it,” Baker said chuckling.

Baker said rattlesnake serum costs around $1,000 a vial and treatment takes six to eight to 10 vials.

The key to avoiding bites in the wild, is paying attention and awareness, Gennaro said.

“I think vigilance is the number one thing we deal with in the wild,” he said. “Watch where you’re putting feet, if you know there are spiders, wear gloves.”

And if bitten, Gennaro said, do everything possible to stay calm, get a description of the perpetrator and seek medical help.

The Gila is an endangered rock dwelling, burrowing lizard species, found in the southern desert regions of the state, Gennaro said. Secretive and rarely seen, the worst part of the bite is the fact the lizard locks its jaws and hangs on, often requiring removal by force.

Machen said he has no qualms about dealing with the reptile again in the future and can’t wait to get better and return to work.

Know your neighbors:
Brown Recluse spider — A tannish-brown spider with spindly bristled legs which would fit on a dime. A distinct “violin” marking stretches from the head to the first section of the spider’s body.
The Brown Recluse’s venom attacks and damages tissue and can cause organ damage. Bites are often painless initially with symptoms of pain, itching and eventually tissue death developing over following days. Other symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, joint and muscle pain are more immediate.
There is no serum for this venom and treatment should be sought immediately.
— www.badspiderbites.com