AS BAD AS ITS BITE?
The main reason for the hoopla regarding the brown recluse is its ability to sometimes cause skin lesions from envenomations. A bite typically occurs when the spider is trapped between exposed flesh and some object, so people are typically bitten while dressing or when rolling over in bed at night.
However, one fact that’s often overlooked is that about 90 percent of brown recluse bites heal without serious consequences, and also heal nicely without medical intervention.
In the few bites that develop serious lesions, the initial bite is barely perceptible. Pain develops within three to eight hours. In some cases, a bull’s eye lesion will form — but this is also a symptom of Lyme disease, so it’s not diagnostic solely for recluse bites. A hardened ulcer may form during the course of a week, which later will fall away from the wound exposing soft undertissue. Healing may be slow, requiring two to three months. However, even serious lesions heal nicely in most cases.
Although there are no proven deaths from brown recluse spider bites — a spider found in the act of biting, properly identified and the bite victim died — there have been several recorded child deaths where a recluse bite is the most probable causative agent. Nonetheless, even these presumptive deaths are extremely rare. There is about one reported every decade, which pales in comparison to the injury and death risks of riding in a car, for example.
One of the most important aspects of recluse bite medicine in the last decade or so is the awareness that there are more than 40 different medical conditions that result in skin lesions that physicians could misdiagnose as brown recluse spider bites. Many misdiagnoses are occurring throughout North America, in states and provinces where no populations of brown recluses are known — and in many cases, where no specimens have ever been found.
Some of these conditions are far worse than any recluse bite would ever be, and in some cases, could be deadly if not treated properly. This is especially true when a condition is misdiagnosed; the wrong remedy is given and the condition continues to run rampant.