The Bite of the Brown Recluse

LSC Brown Recluse 2

I was down on my land this weekend, loading the canoe into my truck when I saw what I thought were a couple of brown recluse spiders on the wood ties I used to keep the canoe off the ground. Since I’m always on the lookout for scorpions, I don’t usually put my hands anywhere I can’t see, so I wasn’t in any danger, but when I took a closer look at the spiders on the wood, it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure what a brown recluse actually looked like.  

So I did some research on them yesterday, and I ran across a report from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, saying that doctors were seeing an increase in patients with brown recluse bites this year. It also provided some good information about the much-feared spider.

The brown recluse can be found from as far north as Ohio all the way down here to Texas, and although its bite has a bad reputation, in actuality, doctors don’t really know how toxic its venom is compared to other spiders. What is known is that it isn’t an aggressive spider and it generally avoids humans, hence the name. In the southwest they live in the woods, usually in dark secluded areas like hollow logs and deep brush. In the colder parts of the country, they’re mostly found in house attics, basements and garages.

LSC Brown RecluseThey’re also known as violin spiders, or ‘fiddlebacks’ for the violin-shaped mark on their head, and their bite can have two effects on its victims. The first is necrosis of the skin at the bite, but according to the Tennessee Poison Center Medical Director, Donna Seger, M.D., the commonly seen tissue damage may have more to do with treatment from uninformed doctors than anything else.

Says Seger, “As physicians, it is hard for us to do nothing. The cutaneous lesion [of a brown recluse bite] has classic characteristics, but if physicians are not familiar with this bite, the tendency is to debride and cut out the lesion. This actually slows the healing process and can result in disfigurement that would not occur if the lesion were left alone.”

She goes on to say that that she doesn’t recommend ointments or antibiotics, and that ice works better for pain and is less destructive on the tissue.

The university was quick to point out, though, that young children and overweight adults are more susceptible to the other potential threat from a brown recluse bite: a severe reaction to the venom which can produce a wide variety of symptoms similar to poisoning, including fever, shivering, nausea, restlessness and shock. Although this reaction is rare, suspected brown recluse bites on children should always be treated by a doctor.

I now know a little more about the brown recluse and will probably feel a little better next time I’m bitten by something, but I still plan to keep an eye on where I put my hands.

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  1 comment for “The Bite of the Brown Recluse

  1. Scott
    July 28, 2014 at 10:06 PM

    Great info Bert. Learned something new. Although I won’t be going out of my way to have a closer look at them. 🙂 Take care.

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