August 11, 2008, - 10:20 am

Once Bitten: Beware of the Brown Recluse Spider

By Debbie Schlussel
Whoa. This is creepy. Apparently a common spider, found in houses across America, can severely disfigure and kill you. Yup, it’s not just the rare, exotic tarantulas and black widows you need to worry about.
When I was a kid, my dad always taught me to take bugs I found inside the house and set them free outside, but–being worried they’d bite me on the way out–I often killed them and flushed them down the toilet. Now, I have more justification, especially in the case of spiders.

A 4-inch scar stretches across 6-year-old Barron Bowling’s face, a road map to the venom that seeped through his cheek when he was bitten by a brown recluse spider last September. Crushed cartilage makes his right ear fold in half, and a tiny chunk of that ear is missing.


Beware the Brown Recluse Spider

“People say, ‘What happened? Were you in a car accident? Were you burned?’ ” says Barron’s mother, Elisa Bowling of Kansas City, Mo. “It’s amazing how something so small can be such a big deal.”
Brown recluse bites are on the rise across the country, especially in the Midwest and Southeast, says Gary Wasserman, chief of toxicology at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo. Last year, the hospital treated 29 patients who had been bitten by a brown recluse ‚Äî the usual rate is 10 to 12 a year. Since April, the hospital has treated 12 patients; three were admitted to the intensive care unit.
“We’re gradually seeing more and more, in worse and worse cases,” Wasserman says. “I suspect that’s because they’re getting used to being around humans.”
The brown recluse spider prefers to hide in dark, quiet areas like basements and attics. It typically avoids people and is aggressive only when provoked. It is dormant part of the year, which means bites usually occur from April until October.
Within hours, the spider’s venom will begin to kill surrounding tissue, Wasserman says. That creates a bruise that resembles a target.
What makes the bite life-threatening are systemic effects such as hemolysis, or the breakdown of red blood cells, clotting abnormalities and secondary infections.
When Barron was bitten, his face swelled, almost closing his throat. He breathed via a ventilator for four days.
Rick Vetter, a research associate in the department of entomology at the University of California-Riverside, warns that skin lesions are often misdiagnosed as brown recluse bites. They could actually be caused by cancer, Lyme disease, bacterial infections, diabetes or chemical burns.
There are probably bucketfuls of these spiders in your home, and it’s very rare to be bitten,” Vetter says. “You shouldn’t ignore them, but you also shouldn’t freak out about them.”

Here are the symptoms of a Brown Recluse Spider’s bite:

* Severe pain at the site of the bite.
* Itching.
* Muscle and joint pain, coupled with weakness.
* Nausea, vomiting and fever.

Double Yikes.
Read more about the Brown Recluse Spider, also known by its scientific name, Loxosceles reclusa.
**** UPDATE: Reader “Sue Denemme” posted links–here and here–to grotesque but important photos showing what a bite from this spider can do. Needless to say, stay away from these critters.
Reader Howard sends advice on a possible treatment, but we are not doctors and are not giving medical advice, so don’t sue us, if it doesn’t work. We recommend calling 911 or rushing to the hospital, if G-d forbid, you are bitten:

In his newsletter Alternatives”, Dr. David Williams claims that the liberal application of DMSO [Dimethyl Sulfoxide] will inhibit the damage to skin and tissue caused by the bite of the Brown Recluse spider.
He wrote that a number of home repairmen, air conditioning service people, and plumbers are aware of this effect of DMSO and carry it with them when working in attics or wherever the Brown Recluse may be found.
I cannot attest to the efficacy of DMSO for anything other
than reducing inflamation in tendons and muscles, but Williams is usually on the right track.

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9 Responses

They are not thaaaaat common here in Michigan anyway. The first time I heard about them was at Edwards Air Force Base back in 1987. It is in the Mojave desert. Out there you have a mixed bag of tricks. Poisonous everything that crawls, or walks. With all the transporting of people and vegetation across the country you get problems like these. Hope the Black Widow spider doesn’t successfully breed in your house. They kill more people than rattlers every year. Personally I smash every spider I find in my house.

samurai on August 11, 2008 at 11:10 am

Time to dust off the Arachnophobia DVD:

Shy Guy on August 11, 2008 at 11:26 am

Don’t be afraid. We’ve got loads of them in Oklahoma, and even though I’m not a big fan of spiders, they shouldn’t give you nightmares. They are less excited about being around you than you are about being around them — thus “recluse.” They like closed up dark spaces, and I’ve read somewhere that if you see a web, it’s not a recluse — they are hunters or something. Anyway, I keep my shoes on racks over the door that hold them up and away from dark places. And when I put my hands in my yard gloves (stored in the garage) I always beat on the gloves a bit to chase anything unwanted out of them. Just making a point to not stick appendages into places no human has gone in a while is usually enough to keep you out of harm’s way (and cleaning your house/opening closets & drawers regularly). And if you do find any kind of unusual wound/mark on yourself, it’s always best to have a doctor look at it without waiting until you are disfigured to go to the ER. (Common sense is sooo helpful!)
After having said all that…pets are another issue. My dogs are small and relish chasing other critters and insects — going to places I don’t even want to think about around the yard and under the house. They have been bitten by spiders before. I’ve just found that if I handle my pets daily, I usually find anything wrong with them in time. I also make it a point to always trust my instincts about what may or may not be a big deal — 99% of the time I’m right.
Elderly relatives or neighbors that don’t get around very well, thus around their homes very often, probably need a little more attention as well.

Numenorean on August 11, 2008 at 11:35 am

Look at these pictures of recluse bites if you don’t think they can be serious. It takes over a week for them to do real damage.

Sue Denemme on August 11, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Well I’ve only seen black widows in my life. I’ve never seen one of these recluse spiders in person, so it’s probably a good thing they are not here in Baltimore.
And people, don’t think a bite from one of these will give you superpowers. They’ll give you something more…ugly.

Squirrel3D on August 11, 2008 at 1:10 pm

I’m surprised no one has noticed that we’ve been watching one of those spiders for almost 2 years….. she’s presently on hiatus (dormant?) selling her critically acclaimed book right now, while the nation’s energy “bites” are festering.

FreeAmerican on August 11, 2008 at 1:19 pm

Ticks are worse than spiders. Spiders like the Brown Recluse as Debbie noted, attack only when provoked. You wouldn’t want to find one in your home but if they are there they are usually in places you wouldn’t go to anyway. Still, forewarned is forearmed about them.

NormanF on August 11, 2008 at 4:16 pm

There is no way to mistake the bite of a brown recluse once you see one in person. I had a patient that had to have her forehead reconstructed after it became necrotic after a recluse bite.
“Spiders like the Brown Recluse as Debbie noted, attack only when provoked.”
Thats true of most spiders except the nasty little Arizona brown spiders we have here. I’ve seen them jump onto legs and bite people.

Azygos on August 11, 2008 at 6:41 pm

I have been bitten by one of those things before, but was not so severely burdened by effects of the poison. The scars I have are tiny and indistinguishable from a birthmark. I read up on the spider at the time and discovered that most victims never feel the actual bite so they don’t seek medical treatment until the wound becomes conspicuous. I know it sounds radical, but I understand that nowadays poisonous bites are treated with electric shock treatment, akin to a police tazer. it seems that it neutralizes the effects of the poison by organizing jangled protiens that cause illness and death. I don’t carry a tazer about and don’t plan to, but I am not above calling a cop and asking him to taze me if I get bit by a brown recluse again…

Mewize on August 11, 2008 at 8:47 pm

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