The California Poison Control System (CPCS) suggests being on the lookout for spiders, which are increasingly active when temperatures rise. With more people sheltering at home or just starting to hike in the hills, the risk of bites is more likely. Spider bites can result in small puncture wounds, pain, redness, itching and swelling that can last a couple of days. Most bites are usually not serious.
“Only a few spider species have fangs that can penetrate human skin and be worrisome to people. By following some precautions, people can minimize the chance of being bitten,” says Rais Vohra, a division medical director for CPCS. Spiders generally prefer to live in undisturbed areas where they can catch insects in peace.
Black widow spiders are common in California, while the brown recluse spider is not a cause of human injury in the state. The black widow venom is dangerous even when baby spiders hatch. Black widows establish non-symmetrical webs in garages, closets and corners of patio furniture, as well as outdoors. Tarantulas, whether native or exotic, can also cause injury either with a bite or the irritation from their many hairs when they enter the skin or eyes. They are usually not aggressive, so most bites occur because a spider is trapped or unintentionally touched. Vohra suggests the following spider bite prevention tips:
- Keep cribs and beds as far from the wall as possible.
- Shake all clothes thoroughly before wearing them.
- Check your bed thoroughly before climbing in; more so if the bed has not been slept in for a while
- Always put on gloves and long-sleeved shirts when going through or emptying closets, boxes or containers that have sat undisturbed for a while.
- Turn your shoes over and shake them out before putting them on.
- Teach children to respect spiders and to find an adult if they see one.
The symptoms of a black widow spider bite include minimal redness at the bite site, and gradually increasing pain over several hours after venom is injected. Vohra says that the biggest problem with black widow spiders is that the bites are exceedingly painful. Patients usually describe an unrelenting, throbbing, dull pain near the site of the bite. In severe cases, the pain can affect the whole back, torso or abdomen. A bite on the hand or arm can cause chest pain, and bites to the lower extremities can cause abdominal pain. A small area of redness or a localized sweat patch at the site of the bite is a telltale sign. If pain is increasingly severe, seek medical attention, as effective medicines are available.
Not all black widow bites need medical attention. Reasons to go to the doctor after a spider bite include discomfort which is increasingly severe; spreading local redness accompanied by pain and any drainage from a bite site.
Most people who believe that they have spider bites actually have bacterial skin infections instead. An expanding red painful area on the skin might be a staph infection and should be examined by a physician.
Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for questions about poison encounters. Trained pharmacists, nurses and other providers are available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is free, confidential and interpreters are available.