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Spider Bites

  • Facts about spider bites

    It is estimated that less than three deaths per year occur from spider bites. However, most victims are children. Most of the 20,000 species of spiders found in the United States are poisonous, but their fangs are too short or too fragile to break through human skin. The bites of most spiders cause only minor, local reactions.

    How Boston Children's Hospital approaches spider bites

    The Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention, based at Children's, provides 24-hour treatment and advice to health care professionals and the public on all types of poisoning, including spider bites. The center provides emergency care, follow-up services, seminars on toxicology and poisoning prevention and more. 

    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

     617-355-6714


  • The two types of spiders who are dangerous

    In the United States, the two spiders that can cause serious problems are the black widow and the brown recluse spiders (sometimes called the violin spider). Both of these spiders are found in warm climates. If it is possible to kill or capture the spider without further harm to yourself or your child, it is important to do so. Place the spider in a glass jar or plastic container so it can be identified.

    Brown recluse spider

    The brown recluse spider, or violin spider, is about one inch long and has a violin-shaped mark on its upper back. It's often found in warm, dry climates and prefers to stay in undisturbed areas such as basements, closets and attics. It is not an aggressive spider, but will attack if trapped or held against the skin. No deaths have been reported in the country from a brown recluse bite.

    What are the symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite?

    Venom from the brown recluse spider usually causes local tissue damage. The following are the most common symptoms of a bite from a brown recluse spider bite. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

    • burning, pain, itching, or redness at the site which is usually delayed and may develop within several hours or days of the bite
    • a deep blue or purple area around the bite, surrounded by a whitish ring and large red outer ring similar to a "bulls eye"
    • an ulcer or blister that turns black
    • headache, body aches
    • rash
    • fever
    • nausea or vomiting

    Black widow spider

    A black widow spider is a small, shiny black button-shaped spider with a red hourglass mark on its abdomen and that prefers warm climates. Widow spider bites release a toxin that can cause damage to the nervous system, thus, emergency medical treatment is necessary.

    What are the symptoms of a black widow spider bite?

    The following are the most common symptoms of a black widow spider bite. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

    • immediate pain, burning, swelling, and redness at the site (double fang marks may be seen)
    • cramping pain and muscle rigidity in the stomach, chest, shoulders, and back
    • headache
    • dizziness
    • rash and itching
    • restlessness and anxiety
    • sweating
    • eyelid swelling
    • nausea or vomiting
    • salivation, tearing of the eyes
    • weakness, tremors, or paralysis, especially in the legs
  • Treatment for a brown recluse spider bite

    Your child's physician will determine specific treatment for a brown recluse spider bite. Advice for home treatment includes:

    • Remain calm and reassure your child that you can help.

    • Wash the area well with soap and water.

    • Apply a cold or ice pack wrapped in a cloth, or a cold, wet washcloth to the site.

    • To protect against infection, particularly in children, apply an antibiotic lotion or cream.

    • Give acetaminophen for pain.

    • Elevate the site if the bite occurred on an arm or leg (to help prevent swelling).

    • Seek immediate emergency care for further treatment. Depending on the severity of the bite, treatment can range from administering corticosteroids and other medications to surgery of the ulcerated area. Hospitalization may be needed.

    • Prompt treatment is essential to avoid more serious complications, especially in children.

    Treatment for a black widow spider bite

    Your child's physician will determine specific treatment for a black widow spider bite. Advice for initial treatment includes:

    • Remain calm and reassure your child that you can help.

    • Wash the area well with soap and water.

    • Apply a cold or ice pack wrapped in a cloth, or a cold, wet washcloth to the site.

    • To protect against infection, particularly in children, apply an antibiotic lotion or cream.

    • Give acetaminophen for pain.

    • Seek immediate emergency care for further treatment. Depending on the severity of the bite, treatment may include muscle relaxants, pain relievers and other medications, and supportive care. Antivenin may be needed, although it's usually not required. Hospitalization may be needed.

    • Prompt treatment is essential to avoid more serious complications, especially in children.

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