Spider bite or suspected spider bite?

by Dr. Grace C. O'Neil
U.S. Army

HONOLULU (September 22, 2017) - Tripler Army Medical Center, also known as TAMC, sees many patients in the emergency room claiming they have been bit by a spider. Hawaii has approximately 15 spiders that people may encounter, but only a handful is harmful to humans.

Black widow spiders are found in dark, damp places. They commonly hide in woodpiles and near swimming pools. They are shiny and black and have long legs with an orange, red or yellow hourglass shape on their underside. Females are more likely to deliver venom than males and they bite defensively when their webs are bothered.

The bites are more serious to babies and children than to adults. Symptoms will commonly appear in 30-60 minutes and include swelling and redness to the site, muscle cramping and spasms that start near the bite and spread and worsen over 6-12 hours. Symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, sweating, headache, low or high blood pressure, severe belly and back or chest pains are common as well. Seek medical help if your symptoms are severe. Anti-venom medicine to counteract the spider venom is available if you have difficulty breathing, blood pressure changes or are pregnant.

The brown recluse spider is not found in Hawaii, but its relative the brown violin is. They are about 0.5 inches long with a dark violin-shaped mark on the combined head and midsection. They live in hot, dry, abandoned areas, like wood or rock piles or under old boards and bark. They have also been found in closets and basements.

Brown violin spider bites don't always hurt right away and you may not know that you have been bitten until symptoms appear. They can include red skin that may be followed by a blister, pain and itching, and an open sore with tissue breakdown that develops in a week or later and may take months to heal.

Remain calm if you think you have been bitten by a brown recluse spider as too much excitement or movement will increase the flow of venom in your blood. Apply a cool, wet cloth or a cloth-covered ice bag to the bite and elevate the area. You can take over the counter pain medication for the pain. Antihistamines can help with itching.

Some people have a severe, total body reaction to brown recluse spider. You can get a low blood count from the destruction of red blood cells, fever and chills, skin rash, nausea, vomiting or joint pain. These people should go to the hospital immediately.

Many patients come to the emergency room and think they have a spider bite but actually have an infection.

Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a type of bacteria on the skin and nose that exists in everyone. It can grow in wounds and cause an infection in other sites of the body. Staph bacteria have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics related to penicillin that are used to treat it giving rise to Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). This has happened due to a combination of factors; including antibiotic over-prescribing and factory farming (farm animals are given antibiotics to prevent infections in crowded conditions). It is found in people in healthcare facilities and outside of the hospital in people who have received a lot of antibiotics or have been in contact with someone carrying MRSA.

MRSA can also be found in the community now. MRSA is commonly found on athletic equipment, bedding, towels, and clothes, benches in hot tubs or saunas or bandages. Hand-washing and avoidance of equipment-sharing can help prevent the spread of MRSA, but many people harbor MRSA because they work in the hospital.

MRSA causes disease when it enters an opening in the skin. MRSA may appear as a swollen, sore, and red area on the skin that can drain pus or other fluid. The infected area may be warm and may cause a boil. Please see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

If you have been bitten by a spider, try to catch it identify it. This will help medical personnel administer the best treatment.

For more information on spiders in Hawaii, go to: www.health.hawaii.gov/docd/disease_listing/spider-bites/

Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Pacific
Flipboard: Stars and Stripes Community Sites

Looking to travel while stationed abroad? Check out our other Pacific community sites!
Stripes Japan
Stripes Okinawa
Stripes Korea

Recommended Content