A rattlesnake bit a Bushland kindergartener on the leg Thursday, striking from beneath a tree alongside a gradeschool activity field, authorities said.
The child was “very scared” but in stable condition at Northwest Texas Hospital, said Bushland Independent School District Superintendent Don Wood.
It happened at 1:30 p.m. as the boy walked past a tree while playing on the fenced field outside Bushland Elementary School, Wood said. The snake appeared to be a prairie rattler, Wood said. The snake struck the boy on the back of his calf, officials said.
A school secretary located the reptile and prevented it from moving while custodian Vicki Heppard raced out with a push broom, Wood said.
“The custodian got the broom and whacked the snake to death,” Wood said.
Michelle Ellis, a physical education aide, carried the frightened child inside the school. Paramedics stabilized the boy and transported him, his father and the dead snake to Northwest Texas Hospital, Wood said.
Wood sent out an email to staff, warning them to beware wildlife on campus.
Prairie rattlers frequently grow to more than 3 feet long and are light brown, typically nocturnal in hot weather and common in West Texas.
Their venom is considered powerful.
Almost 7,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, although fatalities are rare.
Encounters with rattlesnakes in Texas aren’t uncommon, said Robert Levens, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department captain of game wardens for the Texas Panhandle.
“More than half of all snake bites are dry — in other words, there is no venom,” Levens said.
Officials said they were unsure whether the snake injected venom into the child.
Potter County Fire-Rescue Chief Richard Lake said snake-bite treatment is part of firefighter emergency medical technician training.
Firefighters arrived about a minute after the boy was bitten and a Potter County sheriff’s deputy, who’d been patrolling nearby, arrived within seconds, Wood said.
“The main thing you have to do is try to calm everybody down,” Lake said. “It’s a little more pressure situation with a small child.”
Prairie rattlers frequently are found near ponds or wetlands. Wood said employees told him they had not encountered snakes at the school before.
If someone has been bitten by a venomous snake, call 911 or the Texas Poison Center Network at 1-800-222-1222 for information about which medical centers have the appropriate antivenom. If possible, call ahead to the medical center so the antivenom can be ready when the victim arrives.
It is also important to identify the kind of snake that bit the victim. Even taking a dead snake with you to the medical center is appropriate if it can be done without further risk or injury. Extreme caution should be used. Reflexes may allow even a dead snake to bite.