Spiders are blamed for all kinds of things that turn out to be skin infections or some other bug’s fault. Most don’t even have fangs long enough to break your skin. When they do bite, they’re typically harmless. In the U.S., only the black widow and brown recluse have venom strong enough to really hurt you. And their bites are rarely deadly to humans.
Even though most spiders produce venom, not all venoms trigger a response in humans. Many responses to a spider bite will be localized reactions of the immune system to the foreign proteins injected by the spider – the classic swelling, redness and itching that occurs with many biting insects.
The clinical definition of a spider bite is very specific, and it is suspected that many lesions or skin conditions are misidentified as spider bites. A clinical definition of a spider bite consists of three components: pain at the site of the bite immediately following the bite; collection of the spider at the time of, or immediately after the bite; and identification of the spider by an expert to verify it is capable of producing symptoms. Only then, when all of these conditions are met, is it scientifically considered a spider bite.
Could it be something else? Based on all of the available information, it is reasonable to conclude that random, unprovoked spider bites are rare. The black widow spider can cause severe, systemic reactions in people who are bitten; however, in areas where black widow spiders are common, there are few verified bites.
Brown recluse spider bites are diagnosed throughout the country while the range of these spiders is limited to localized areas. As reported in the Journal of Medical Entomology, the Florida State poison control center reported medical diagnosis of 124 brown recluse bites over a four-year period while only 11 verified brown recluses have been collected in Florida over a 100-year period. Clearly, other medical conditions are being misdiagnosed as spider bites.
While there are a handful of spiders whose bites can cause serious reactions in people, spider bites are not that common. Even dangerous spiders are not aggressive and prefer to retreat and escape rather than bite. Random, unprovoked bites are extremely rare. Pest management professionals should be wary of bite reports and certainly should not exaggerate the frequency of the bites with customers, as this could lead to legal and ethical issues in our industry.
What Do Sider Bites Look Like?
They’re pretty much just like an insect bite. For the most part, you can’t tell a spider bit you just from your symptoms. You’ll get a little bump on your skin. It might get red, itchy, and swell up a bit. It might hurt, but no more than a bee sting and usually not for more than an hour or so. That’s basically it — unless you’re bitten by a venomous spider.
Most varieties of spiders produce venom, and some spiders will expel digestive juices into their prey. The venom is used to subdue prey, and in some cases, to begin the digestion of their prey. Producing venom takes a lot of the spider’s resources and time — for instance, Cupiennius salei takes anywhere from eight to 16 days to refill its venom glands after use. Venom is a valuable resource to a spider and needs to be used prudently; random, unprovoked biting of non-prey animals, like people, is not a prudent use of a valuable resource.
Spiders’ venom glands are surrounded by muscles, enabling spiders to control the amount of venom injected. One published study demonstrated that individual spiders inject more venom when dealing with larger, more active and difficult to subdue prey while injecting less into smaller, less active prey.
So why bite? Humans are not a food source for spiders. Spiders only bite people when they are threatened. One published study reports that for huntsman spiders, 75 percent of verified bites occurred when the spiders were handled. Because of this, 82 percent of the bites were found on the hands and feet. Most spiders only bite people as a last ditch defense response.
What to Do if You are Bitten
The first steps are the same for all spider bites, even those from a black widow or brown recluse. Clean the area with soap and water and put on some antibiotic cream. Then take a cloth and wet it with cold water or wrap it around some ice and put that on the bite. If you were bitten on your arm or leg, raise it up. You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and an antihistamine for swelling.
When to See a Doctor
Get checked out right away if you have symptoms beyond the bite, like serious pain in your belly, cramps, throwing up, or trouble breathing. You also should see your doctor if you have an open sore or a bullseye mark, or if the bite gets worse after 24 hours. Look out for things like pain around the bite getting worse, redness that’s spreading, and fluid coming from the bite. If you can do it safely, take the spider with you, even if it’s dead.
This spider’s telltale sign is the red hourglass shape on the bottom of its big, round abdomen — the back part of the body. Black widows are shiny and black and about half an inch long. You can find them anywhere in North America, but mostly they’re in the southern and western areas in the U.S. They like quiet, out-of-the-way places like closets, sheds, garages, and woodpiles.
Treatment for Black Widow Bites
You may get prescription drugs to ease the pain and relax your muscles. There’s antivenom for black widows, but it’s rarely used because some people have a serious reaction to it. And it’s almost never really needed. It’s saved for more serious bites in the very young, very old, or people who have other health issues.
People sometimes say to look for the small violin shape on the part of the body where the legs attach, but that’s easy to get wrong. Check the eyes instead. Most spiders have eight eyes in two rows of four. Here, look for six eyes: two in front, and two on each side. They live mostly in the southern Midwest and parts of the South. They like to stay indoors, tucked away deep in the stuff in your basement or attic.
In a recorded study, 2,055 brown recluse spiders were captured over a six-month period in a Kansas home — 400 of those spiders were big enough to inflict envenomation in humans. Despite the number of capable spiders, no one was bitten.
Treatment for Brown Recluse Bites
This is mostly about managing the wound so it doesn’t get infected. If you have a bump and redness, your doctor might recommend antihistamines or a cream to help with swelling and itchiness. For an open sore, you need to clean it daily and use antibiotic cream. From there, you should keep an eye on things, especially for symptoms beyond the bite, like fever or chills.
False Black Widow
These look a lot like black widows, but they don’t have the red hourglass. And their color ranges from purplish-brown to black. They like to cozy up in homes along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts. Pain from their bite can get worse in the first hour and you may get some blisters around it. It might make you feel generally sick with a headache or an upset stomach, but this will pass within a few days.
It’s not very common, but just like with bee stings, some people are allergic to spider bites. Watch for swelling in your face or mouth, trouble talking or swallowing, tightness in your chest, or trouble breathing. If you feel any of these symptoms or see them in someone you’re with, get help right away.
For a spider bite with a reaction to occur, several conditions must be met. The spider must have a reason to bite, and as we have seen, most spiders are not overly aggressive and only bite in self-defense.
How to Prevent Spider Bites
If you’re poking around in woodpiles, sheds, attics, and other areas, wear long sleeves and a hat, and tuck your pants into your socks. Make sure to shake out work gloves, boots, and clothes you haven’t used in a while, because spiders can hide in them, too. And don’t keep rocks, lumber, or firewood near your house. Inside, don’t put your bed directly against the wall, and don’t store things under it.
Being a generalist predator, spiders are beneficial organisms in that they control populations of nuisance pests. However, many people harbor a fear of spiders, and their webbing causes aesthetic concerns, so there will always be a need to provide control services for concerned customers.
If you have detected the unwelcome presence of spiders in your home, do not attempt to remove them yourself. Give us a call at 772-286-6812, or go to https://patrickexterminating.com/contact/ to schedule a no-obligation home pest inspection. We will locate and eliminate the problem.
Sources: Pest Control Technology / WebMD
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