A poisonous spider (Loxosceles reclusa) native to parts of the American Midwest, though they have been reported on both the East and West Coasts. About a quarter- to three-quarters of an inch long, this tan or brown colored spider is sometimes called the fiddleback, due to the small, dark, violin-shaped mark on its head and back. They are not hairy spiders, so they can be easily distinguished from the wolf spiders, which have a similar appearance.

Egg cases are off-white in color and silken. They are about a third of an inch in diameter and are found in sheltered, dark areas. They hatch in about 24-36 days, but the baby spiders develop slowly -- they reach maturity in about ten to twelve months and can survive for a long time without food or water.

The brown recluse's poison has a necrotizing effect -- it causes skin around the bite to begin to rot away and slough off. After someone is bitten, they will often show a reaction in about 24-36 hours. They will often be restless and will feel fever, chills, nausea, joint pain, and weakness. In some severe cases, the bite wound may last for months, and a scar will often develop. Some people, however, are not harmed by the bite at all. In any case, the poison is rarely fatal -- small children and the elderly would be in the most danger if bitten.

The brown recluse likes to hang out in dark, unused areas, so be careful rummaging in that attic or toolshed -- or that old shoebox. Luckily, they're rarely aggressive, but if you threaten them -- say, by sticking your hand into dark places in your garage -- they may attack. If you're bitten by a brown recluse, see a doctor right away. Kill the spider, if possible, and take it to the doctor with you. If you have shoes on, they're easy to squish, or you can spray 'em with bug spray.

Research from http://www.ext.vt.edu/departments/entomology/factsheets/brownrec.html

Let's talk more about the bite. May 28th, 2006 at 11 AM I noticed a large white blister-like object on my right side. It was surrounded by a large blue-purple bruise and reddened skin. All told, it was about 3/4ths of an inch in diameter. I dismissed it as an infected pimple or boil and took a warm, steamy shower.

My mother fancies herself a medical expert. "Look," I say, pointing to the bite. "What do you think that is?"

"It's just a boil," she replies matter-of-factly. "Put a hot compress on it and it'll go away." Somehow, I wasn't so sure. Before the shower it hadn't hurt at all but now there was a dull, throbbing pain in my side. More heat didn't seem like a great idea. I grabbed an ice pack and headed online.

When I typed in my symptoms, "Brown Recluse Spider (BRS) Bite" was the only thing that matched. They referred to the wound as a classic "red, white, and blue bullseye." They said to put ice on it--not heat--as heat would only spread the venom. I saw picture after picture of adults who needed skin grafts, major surgery, and in a few cases amputation. I waited to see if the pain got any worse.

By 2 PM I could hardly sit up straight; the pain in my abdomen was unbearable. The wound had increased to an inch in size. Both the bruise and blister were noticeably darker. It was time for a trip to the Emergency Room.

"Wow, that's a bad one." No kidding. I'd waited at least an hour to see the attending. It was now almost 4 PM and a near-constant stream of tears ran down my face. "Yep, that's definitely a brown recluse bite. Did you see what bit you?" No. But I went for a walk on a trail in the woods this morning and finished by sitting on a large rock near a wooded area. I live in Missouri, where the BRS is common--especially in the woods. "When was the last time you had a tetanus shot?"

That's right. Tetanus. Apparently when you get a BRS bite, one of the biggest dangers is in getting tetanus. The doctor gave me a shot to the arm and advised me to keep the wound clean, covered in triple antibiotic ointment, and iced down. The ice would slow the venom, which would have to work its way out of my system, and the antibiotics would keep it from getting infected. The affected skin would die and rot away; the wound would take months to heal and would be painful for at least the first week. That was all they could do.

The blister grew to almost the entire length of the wound. The outer ring was purple and the blister filled with an orangeish liquid. I had nearly constant pain for the first two weeks--especially when the ice pack wasn't in place. By the way, the pain is totally internal; the skin itself didn't hurt. I was particularly afraid it would become irritated by soap, but showers were fine as long as they were cool. Eventually the blister popped and an inch-long black scab, indented into my abdomen, took its place.

Mother Nature is fabulous, isn't she? It is now September 14, 2006, and what remains is a 3 centimeter hole in my stomach. The surrounding area is healed, but in the bright pink manner of a scar. Yellowish-greenish dried pus continues to push its way out of the wound. I haven't had to cover it for over a month, but direct pressure occasionally still hurts.

Turns out I'm lucky. Because you may not feel the bite, some people mistakingly assume the wound is a boil and, after heating the damn thing for a few days, it's expanded to whole areas of their body. Many people have serious repercussions much worse than mine. There have been no confirmed cases of adults dying from BRS venom, though animals and very small children are at a higher risk.

So what should you do if you're bitten? First, apply ice directly to the wound. That will stop the swelling and relieve almost all of your pain. Then, seek medical attention ASAP. The most common treatment is what I received, though some physicians use cortisone or drapsone to increase the rate of healing. Some people require skin grafts or other remedies. There is also much talk about a cure for BRS bites that involves zapping the area with a modified stun gun. Apparently the stun is negatively charged and venom positively charged, so the stun actually destroys the structure of the venom. I can't say I would've felt comfortable trying this procedure, but feel free to investigate it if you're interested.

For more information, please see emedicinehealth.com, http://www.spiderbitetreatment.com, or ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2061.html .

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