Can a Spider Kill You? Maybe Once They Learn How to Conceal Carry.

Can a Spider Kill You? Maybe Once They Learn How to Conceal Carry.

Another hysterical spider-bite story. Apparently, a British guy stepped on a spider while walking in some grass – where all the spiders live – and immediately felt severe pain. His foot swelled up and he went to the hospital where he is “fighting for his life” from “blood poisoning.” The doctors took the stinger out and the guy rapidly improved. The article goes on to breathlessly describe several other arachnophobic encounters and doesn’t do a thing to dispel the myth that the overwhelming majority of spider bites are totally ignored by the people bitten because they cannot even be felt. 

Here is the picture that accompanied the article:






Pretty scary, huh? It’s hard to tell, but that looks like a brown recluse spider (loxosceles reclusa). The genus name Loxosceles is from the Greek for “with slanting legs.” If the picture was a little higher resolution we might be able to differentiate the characteristic violin shape pigmentation that is found on many of the loxosceles species including reclusa, laeta, deserta and others as well as the characteristic “triangle” arrangement of their six eyes:


So how the heck did the doctors even see the “stinger” much less remove it? 

Venomous Loxosceles species inject a venom that contains sphingomyelinase D, a tissue-destroying protein that can cause local tissue necrosis that looks terrible but heals after several weeks with a pink scar:

The trick is to keep the surgeons away from the wound. The body does a perfectly good job of healing the wound on its own with no help from doctors. These pictures are from a New England Journal article describing a 10 year old girl from New Mexico that was bitten and envenomated on her leg. 

Rarely, the brown recluse can cause a syndrome of systemic loxoscelism in which the patient can experience nausea, fever, low blood pressure, hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia (destruction of platelets which can lead to bleeding), and kidney failure. It’s more common in children, but it can happen in adults. In fact, it happened to my father. He was bitten on the foot and because he had diabetes, the doctors caring for him mistook his symptoms for complications of diabetes. He underwent unnecessary surgeries which left him with lifelong complications and health problems.  

The good news is despite what happened to my Dad, systemic loxoscelism is extremely rare. The overwhelming majority of individuals bitten by spiders have some local pain and nothing else. Like any other bug bite. 

I think the guy in the article probably stepped on a stick, didn’t clean it, acquired an infection, ignored it and developed sepsis secondary to an untreated splinter. With all the scary “a spider bit me” stories you have to wonder why nobody has gained the power to climb walls or shoot webs out of their butts. 

Written by Poison Boy

Gerry O'Malley (a.k.a Poison Boy) is a board certified ER doctor and toxicologist with a interest in the unusual, terrifying and occasionally hilarious world of poisonings and toxicology. This site is an exploration of poisons of historical interest as well as in current events and pop culture.

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