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What's it like: To suffer a spider bite

The bites from black widow and brown recluse spiders can cause health problems.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: July 13, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: July 13, 2014
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photo - Northern black widow in Yukon. The female black widow is normally shiny black, with a red hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen.  PHOTO BY STEVE GOOCH, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVE  Steve Gooch -
Northern black widow in Yukon. The female black widow is normally shiny black, with a red hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen. PHOTO BY STEVE GOOCH, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVE Steve Gooch -

How serious are spider bites?

Overall, most spider bites are harmless. For example, some Oklahomans might be familiar with a small black fuzzy jumping spider. These spiders have fangs, and they are able to bite you, but their bite is usually similar in severity to a small insect sting.

However, Oklahoma is home to two spiders that can be harmful to humans, the brown recluse and the black widow. The brown recluse spider is also known as a “fiddle back,” named after the fiddle-shaped pattern located on the top of its leg attachment region. Although neither of the spiders’ bites are usually lethal, their bites can cause serious symptoms.

Residents in Oklahoma concerned about a spider bite can call the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information, formerly the Oklahoma Poison Control Center, at (800) 222-1222.

What are the symptoms?

For the most part, your symptoms with most spider bites won’t be too terrible. You might have a bump similar to that of a bee sting. Occasionally, a person might have an allergic reaction to a spider bite. Overall, children may have more serious reactions and are at a higher risk of developing life-threatening symptoms.

If you develop symptoms from a black widow bite, they can be memorable. You might suffer painful abdominal cramps along with nausea, sweating, increased blood pressure and fever. Some women have compared the cramps to being worse than childbirth. These cramps typically develop within an hour to two hours after you’re bitten. They do not always develop, but if they do, you will likely want to seek medical attention.

Meanwhile, a brown recluse bite can cause the skin at the site of the bite and surrounding area to die and eventually shed. This can produce a fairly large wound and will likely call for professional medical attention. It can take weeks or even months to recover from.

Although it’s rare, some people, after a brown recluse bite, can develop hemolysis, a serious symptom in which the red blood cells breakdown. This can affect a person’s kidneys, causing the urine to darken. If this occurs, it’s important to seek emergency medical care.

Overall, it’s important to seek medical attention if you develop severe pain, abdominal cramping or a growing ulcer at the bite site.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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