Along came a Spider...

By Tayleigh Davis - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Most people cringe at the thought of spiders. They're venomous and can leave nasty bites. Scientists confirm they've spotted one of the most dangerous spiders in America right here in Georgia-- The Brown Recluse.

As fall leaves a task for many home owners, they'll go into their sheds for yard equipment, head into attics for winter clothes and decorations...and snuggle under the covers to stay warm. These dark places are perfect hiding spots for spiders.

Dr. Alfred Woodward at Phoebe Putney Memorial sees them all. Bites from bugs, animals, and spiders. "We see hundreds of bites a year."

Dennis Erickson says a Brown Recluse bit him while in bed seven years ago. "I waited about two or three weeks too long. After I got bit I kind of let it go because I though I'm a man. I can handle this stuff," he said.

That's when it got worse. Two spots festered up on his right leg and one on his left.

"I remember cutting off my sweat pants so that nothing was touching them. I had to go to a meeting for my company up in Atlanta. I bought a pair of loose pants and walked around holding them off my leg."

Not only did he experience pain for months, other wounds began to appear. "I was getting them inside my nose and I was getting those months after. The smell was terrible."

Erickson says he cleaned the area constantly and took anti-biotics. "You wash it as lightly as you can because it hurts like the dickens, and you peel away the dead flesh."

Dr. Woodward says antibiotics in most cases won't heal a Brown Recluse bite. RICE is the best solution. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. "Most people we see who say they've been bitten by a spider haven't been bitten at all. If you have an infection on multiple sites, then it's probably not a spider bite."

He says it's most likely MRSA-- a staph infection resistant to common antibiotics that causes sores or boils. Several years ago Palmyra diagnosed some spider bites which turned out to be MRSA.

Erickson says the pain was too powerful to be anything else. "It really hurts. It's amazing how bad that pain was."

The tissue damage from a Brown Recluse bite usually occurs within hours. That's what happened with an Alabama patient. Minimal bruising quickly advanced to severe states of necrosis killing, and blistering the skin.

"This is typical.  The soft tissue is eaten away and you have exposed tendons," Woodward said.

Brown Recluses span from Midwest states to west Georgia. Over the past six years, scientists have identified 19 Brown Recluse spiders in the state with one bite recorded according to UGA Entomologist Nancy Hinkle.

That doesn't mean more haven't occurred. Erickson says his doctor was certain these characteristics reflected a Brown Recluse bite.

Ben Roberts of Chehaw Park says many people who say they've been bitten haven't. Sometimes it's MRSA. "Brown Recluse bites are probably the most misidentified bites out there."

Many times brown house spiders are commonly mistaken as Brown Recluses. "There are a lot of brown house spiders will cause tissue damage based on allergic reaction," Roberts said.

They're about the size of a quarter, with a violin shape on the back. They have six eyes compared to most spiders with eight, and make small webs not out in the open. They tend to hide in dark cramped spaces, underneath wood pilings, in closets, pillow cases or garments.

Check your clothes, shoes, or yard work gear before putting them on. Most people that get bitten by spiders don't actually see the spider.

Erickson didn't see his assailant either. Even though the bite took several months to heal, and it itched for years.

He's not mentally scared by the pain and has no phobias that he or his family will get bitten. But as he goes into his attic or gets into his bed he'll remember where they like to hide.

All spiders are venomous, but normal pest control will keep most of them out of your home. Researchers at the University of Georgia say you shouldn't worry too much about brown recluses. They're rare. Only 58 sightings have ever been confirmed in Georgia.

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