There are more than 100,000 different kinds of spiders in the world and about 2.2 million spiders per acre of grassy field. Not a comforting thought if you suffer from arachnophobia, a fear of spiders. But the good news is that out of all the different types of spiders, only two in the United States are considered venomous to humans, and even these spiders rarely bother humans unless they are provoked. They are the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse. The Poison Control Center receives many calls about spider bites year-round. Most victims usually ask, "How do I tell if the spider is poisonous?" and, "What kinds of symptoms can I expect?"
The female Black Widow spider can inflict a toxic bite on humans. She is given her name because of her color and because she devours her male partners, making herself a "widow." This shiny, black spider is 8 to 10 millimeters long and has a distinct reddish hour-glass shaped mark on her abdomen. The Black Widow's bite feels like a pin prick. Two small red spots may appear on the skin where the bite occurred. The venom contains a toxin that affects the nervous system.
Occur within 30 minutes to two hours after the bite. Your child may complain of severe back pain and muscle cramps, a rigid sensation in her abdomen, nausea, vomiting, sweating, restlessness and, in some cases, elevated blood pressure. The maximum effect usually occurs three hours after the bite, but in severe cases, pain may persist for several days. Fatalities are extremely rare. Most people recover completely as long as they obtain treatment.
Includes pain relievers, fluids, tetanus shots and other measures. Anti-venom is available and highly effective, but is used only for high-risk cases and multiple bites.
Although this spider is more prevalent on the East Coast than the Black Widow, none are thought to ilve in Pennsylvania or more northern states. Its bites tend to cause serious effects. It has a brownish tint and likes to hide in dark, secluded places; hence, the name Brown Recluse. This spider is about the size of a Black Widow in body length, has a leg span of 20-30 millimeters (1 inch) and has a violin-shaped marking on its back. The venom of the Brown Recluse contains chemicals which cause severe tissue damage.
A bite by a Brown Recluse is initially painless. After a few hours, your child may experience itching, tingling, redness, and pain at the site and a lesion begins to form. This lesion resembles several red rings encircling white areas, radiating from a white central blister; it is often referred to as a "bull's eye" or "target" lesion. This lesion is usually fully evident within 8 hours of the bite and is helpful in diagnosing a Brown Recluse bite. If untreated, the lesion may blister, ulcerate and eventually result in dead tissue. Skin grafting procedures may be required to repair the damage.
In addition to extensive local tissue damage; an untreated Brown Recluse bite may eventually affect major organ systems. If this occurs, your child's symptoms will be evident within 12-24 hours of the bite and may include fever, chills, headache and gastrointestinal upset. Later, bleeding disorders or kidney failure may result.
Brown Recluse bites require prompt medical attention. Treatment may include wound care, antibiotics and other symptomatic care. Healing of lesions can take weeks or months, depending on the severity of the wound. Currently, there is no available antidote; however, an experimental anti-venom is being studied.
Although Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders may be threatening, most spiders that you and your children are likely to encounter are essentially harmless, especially if you leave them alone. They will bite if provoked; however, their bites are not considered medically dangerous. You can expect to see a reaction similar to that of a bee sting, including redness, pain and swelling at the site. Sometimes other symptoms including headache, nausea and vomiting may occur. Good cleaning techniques and proper first-aid should be practiced for all spider bites.
If your child is bitten by an unknown spider:
Generally, spiders are found in dark corners, but can be found just about anywhere. Make sure your child wears gloves and long-sleeved garments if she is going to be handling wood for the fireplace, cleaning out the attic or garage, or working in the garden or some other "spidery" places. She should wear shoes at all times when outdoors and, if she is an avid camper, remind her to be extra careful in outhouses! And remember, it is bad luck to kill a spider in the house...unless, of course, it's a Black Widow or a Brown Recluse, or if you 've just finished watching the movie "Arachnophobia."
If you think your child has been bitten by a venomous spider, immediately contact a poison control center or your doctor.
Call our 24-hour toll-free emergency hotline