This has been a very busy summer… for spiders! It seems there has been a rash of reported spider bites countywide with at least one reported recurrence. Sue Whiton, a registered nurse living in the Flat Creek community, reportedly was bitten on the buttock by a suspected black widow in late July, resulting in surgery and a weekend in the hospital. When that wound was almost healed in mid September, she received another bite to the abdomen. “I suspected it (the first bite) came from a black widow, since two of them were caught and destroyed near my back door,” stated Whiton.” But, according to my nurse at Morristown Hamblen Hospital, Tony Meza, the symptoms were more similar to that of a brown recluse spider.” Treatment for Whiton’s second bite started this week with oral antibiotics.
According to Dr. Kenneth Justice, MD at Parkway Medical Clinic, the black widow spider emits a neurotoxin which affects its victim’s heart, stomach and other internal organs whereas a brown recluse injects a poison which destroys the skin cells and tissue at and around the bite. However, it is possible for a black widow to introduce a secondary infection because the bite breaches the integrity of the skin. Many spider bite victims may, therefore, experience a staph infection. Office Manager, Frank Shave, sports a light brown scar on his calf where he had been bitten by a brown recluse in Florida in 2002. He stated that the very painful wound was treated by three different types of antibiotics and took several weeks to heal. Parkway Medical Clinic treated one spider bite in May and five more in July.
Dr. Charles Bozeman’s office at Summit Medical Group reportedly treated three confirmed brown recluse bites and as many as five suspected spider bites this summer with one victim being referred to Children’s Hospital at Knoxville for treatment.
Bridget Coleman, LPN, at Laurelwoods Surgical Group stated that they had treated three suspected spider bites this summer. Treatment consisted of antibiotics and debridement (removal of dead skin and tissue). Coleman stated that the wounds could not be stitched up due to the risk of re-infection. Instead, the patient must keep the open wound clean and covered with a sterile gauze dressing.
Dr.Curtis Burke,MD of Middle Creek Family Practice stated that they have seen a fair number of skin infections this summer where the patients have said they may have been bitten by a spider. But, in most cases it was cellulitis (a secondary infection which can be caused by a bite of any kind). Cellulitis with gross levels of staph. aureus, left untreated, can lead to sepsis and death. This is the major cause of death in brown recluse spider bite cases.
How to identify the Black Widow spider and its bite:
The black widow is shiny and ink black with a large, round tail segment (abdomen). It is usually about 1/2 to 1 inch long. It has a red or orange-colored hour-glass shaped mark on the underside of its abdomen. The female is poisonous and larger than the harmless male. The bite mark resembles a target with a pale center surrounded by a red ring. Severe muscle pain and cramps may develop within the first two hours. Other symptoms include weakness, sweating, headache, itching, nausea, vomiting and difficulty breathing.
identify the Brown Recluse spider and its bite:
The brown recluse is about 1/2 inch long including its legs. It is also known as the “fiddle-back” spider because it has a violin-shaped mark on its back near its head.
Its bite becomes evident within the first ten minutes with severe pain, burning and itching. The wound resembles a bulls eye with a blistered center and an angry-looking red ring surrounded by a pale or white ring. Within hours the blister breaks leaving an ulcer which scabs over and itches severely. A red rash appears within 24-48 hours and rapidly spreads outward around the bite mark. This is accompanied by fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and hemolytic anemia (a condition whereby the red blood cells are destroyed).
If you experience anything which resembles an insect bite or a bee sting, but you do not see an insect and the bite mark progresses quickly into a sore, keep it clean and watch for the other symptoms. It may be a spider bite. Get to your doctor as quickly as possible. Early diagnosis is the best assurance against serious infection.