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Snakes alive! Those jeans may save your life

If you're a hiker planning to trek into rattlesnake-infested hills this summer, take a fashion cue from a pair of California reptile researchers: Make sure to wear jeans.

Snake scientists at Loma Linda University have discovered that denim clothing significantly cuts the amount of venom injected by angry rattlesnakes, reducing the poison by up to 66 percent.

The researchers, William K. Hayes, a biology professor, and Shelton S. Herbert, a doctoral student, tested 17 small and large southern Pacific rattlesnakes, allowing them to strike liquid-filled latex kitchen gloves, some covered with denim fabric and some left bare. They reported their findings in a recent issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Overwhelmingly, the snakes were thwarted by the denim-covered gloves, spilling their venom harmlessly onto the surface and cutting the amount of time that their fangs were in contact with what would have been human flesh.

"I was surprised," said Hayes, who believes too many hikers fail to take snakebite seriously.

"Wearing long denim pants as an alternative to shorts may provide a simple, low-cost means of reducing the severity of snakebites," his study concludes.

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Of course, the Boy Scouts of America have urged hikers for years to wear not only jeans but also leather boots when tramping around snake country, as Dr. Robert James Hoffman, a New York toxicologist pointed out in a follow-up letter.

No word yet on whether future research will consider the effect of neckerchiefs, merit badges and funny hats on snake bites, but Hoffman couldn't resist a bad Boy Scout pun:

"Perhaps their study will assist persons to 'be prepared' for potential rattlesnake encounters," he wrote.

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