Thursday, 6 April 2017

FLESH-EATING SPIDER VENOM

Australian tourist loses limbs after bite from White Tail spider

The horror story of a white tail spider victim was carried by many major news outlets. It was reported that the tourist in Australia had lost both legs and his arms may also have to be amputated to save his life. But most of the news reports have now been amended or withdrawn due to a lack of accuracy.
A typical white tail spider.
Its reputation is worse than
its bite.

White tail spiders have fearsome reputation in both Australia and New Zealand. Almost everyone knows of someone who has been bitten with horrendous consequences.

So, what is the truth about one of Australia’s most notorious spiders?

It is not hard to find white tail experts and victims in Australia, and New Zealand where they were first seen in 1886. Horror stories persist of gruesome injuries and flesh-eating venom that can lead to serious illness and even death, if not treated quickly. But scientists tell us that while the bite can be painful, the white tail (Lampona murina) bite rarely carries any lasting effects, and they only bite if handled or provoked. This can include bites from spiders trapped inside clothing and bed covers.

In 130 cases studied by G. Isbister and M. Gray from 1999-2002, where the insect was seen to bite and was captured, they found no evidence of necrotic ulcers or flesh-eating. None of the 130 cases required hospital admission. The findings of the study were later published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

But the myth persists that the white tail is one of the deadliest spiders and that reports from scientists and authorities are a cover up. Typically, people will say, “That’s what they want you to believe.”

There is also a claim that the white tail spider is deadly because it eats Daddy Long Leg spiders which, it is claimed, are the world’s deadliest spiders, but their fangs are not strong enough to penetrate human skin. But this raises another question: How does anyone know that its venom is deadly if it has never penetrated anyone’s skin? The answer to the first question is simply that the daddy long legs is not venomous because it has no place in which to carry venom. And that rather makes a nonsense of the second question.

Like any bite or sting (cat, dog, bee, wasp, spider), not everyone reacts the same way to a spider bite. A few people have allergies that could lead to illness or death. Cats, dogs, bees, wasps and spiders don’t brush their teeth every day and that raises the possibility of infection. If you think you have been bitten by a spider, and you feel unwell, you should try to capture it for identification and take it with you when you seek medical help. But remember, if you didn’t see a spider, it probably wasn’t a spider. For immediate care, you should clean the bite with antiseptic or warm soapy water.  

For more information on spider bites see: Ministry of Health New Zealand