More people are getting bitten this summer by the brown recluse spider, according to scientists, but there is no need for any national health panic as the bites typically heal if left alone.
The spider, which is also called the violin spider, is typically light to medium brown but its color can change from cream to dark brown to even blackish gray. It has six eyes, instead of eight, and is called the violin spider due to a violin-looking shape on its back.
"As physicians, it is hard for us to do nothing. The [bite] has classic characteristics, but if physicians are not familiar with this bite, the tendency is to debride [remove infected tissue] and cut out the lesion," said Dr. Donna Seger, medical director of the Tennessee Poison Center explained in a Vanderbilt University Medical Center news release.
"This actually slows the healing process, and can result in disfigurement that would not occur if the lesion were left alone."
One problem with the spider bites, say scientists, is the folklore and public misconception about the spider bites. Most times the bite is a cutaneous lesion that does not present any life-threatening issue. But sometimes the bite can bring on a syndrome called systemic loxsoscelism, which does present more dangerous symptoms such as fever, rash, muscle pain and even the breaking down of red blood cells, called hemolysis.
That condition, notes Seger, can be life-threatening, especially for young children.
"We don't know why systemic loxsoscelism occurs in some people with a brown recluse spider bite and not in others, but it is life-threatening and does require immediate medical attention. Toxin-induced hemolysis can occur very rapidly and therein lies the life threat, especially in children," said Seger. "Our recommendations are that all children under 12 with a brown recluse spider bite should have a urine test for the presence of hemoglobin in blood, which indicates hemolysis."
"If the urine is positive for blood and/or the child has other signs of systemic loxsoscelism (rash, fever), the child should be admitted and observed for hemolysis. If the urine dip is negative, and there are no other signs of systemic loxsoscelism, the child should be seen by a physician the next day," she added.
Adults experiencing a bite, but who don't present such symptoms, don't need a urine test.
Seger said ointments, antibiotics and the anti-infective medication dapsone should not be applied to a brown recluse spider bite wound. Instead, those who are bitten should use ice for any pain.
She also recommended using ice for pain management rather than strong painkillers.