While fear of spiders – arachnophobia – is a common phobia, spiders actually tend to avoid human contact. In fact, they only attack when they feel threatened by us. Therefore, the most common situations resulting in bites are when spider webs get severely disturbed or torn down or when the creatures are about to be crushed. For example, they might bite if they are threatened when they get caught in a glove or boot.
Most spiders in Illinois will cause a little bit of pain, a little bit of itching, and some personal distress that a creepy crawly just took a bite. Two species, however, have the potential to cause a few more problems: the Black Widow spider and the Brown Recluse spider.
Black Widow Spider: Usually only found in southern Illinois, Black Widow Spiders usually have a black body with red-markings. They live in yards, fields, woods, and storage areas (like garages and barns). If their webs are destroyed, they will likely try to get away from you just as much as you want to get away from them. Their bite is painful, and within a few hours can cause muscle cramping, twitching and spasm. Serious envenomations are rare in Illinois.
Brown Recluse Spider: This spider is more common than the Black Widow and is found in dark corners, basements, and storage areas. They bite when we unwittingly interfere with their dwellings. These creatures are difficult to identify since they are just a non-descript brown. The venom can cause swelling and actually destroy the tissue surrounding the bite wound. Other symptoms of a serious bite can include fever, muscle aches and a rash. Brown Recluse Spiders are also usually found in Central and Southern Illinois.
If you get bitten:
- Do clean the area with soap and water. Cover it but continue to check it often for signs of infection (redness, swelling, increasing pain, etc).
- Do remove any jewelry or rings on the affected area. Swelling can make these difficult to take off later on.
- Do ice or put a cold compress on the area of skin (without freezing it).
- Do make sure your tetanus shot is updated.
- If you have more symptoms than just mild irritation at the bite site, do seek medical care.
- Reasons to seek prompt medical care: muscle pain or weakness, nausea, vomiting, belly pain, difficulty breathing, fever, or increasing redness, discoloration, pus drainage, or swelling of the bite site.
- Do not delay care! If you are worried about a spreading reaction, get the wound looked at.
- Do not maintain contact with the spider while trying to figure out what it is. If you get a quick look or picture of it from a safe distance, go for it. Otherwise, your doctor can figure out what to do based on your symptoms!
- Do not pick at the wound site. Keeping the area clean is important for avoiding infection.
- Do not hesitate to call the Illinois Poison Center (1-800-222-1222) if you are unsure of what to do next!
Written by special guest blogger Kshama Shah, MD