It's Probably Not a Spider Bite
Many times a spider gets a bad "rap" and is blamed for a painful skin infection, but usually this is not so. Arachnologists who study spiders try to reassure us that spiders are not our enemy and do not seek us out. Spider bites are more likely to occur in warm weather. They hide in wood piles, brush or other dark crevices minding their own business. If disturbed, they may indeed bite, but the majority just run away.
Skin infections often mimic spider bites. In Southern California 182 patients sought care for what they assumed was a spider bite. Of those, only 3.8% had spider bites, while 87.2% had skin infections. It is important to know the first aid for skin infections, wounds and bites and when to seek care.
Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) skin infections often share the same symptoms that occur early on with spider bites. All of us have a form of staphylococcus aureus (staph) that lives on the surface of our skin. A break in the skin (a cut, abrasion or puncture) can allow the staph to enter the skin cells, and an infection may ensue. Cellulitis, seen as redness and warmth, is often a form of staph infection that can be treated with antibiotics. At times, a skin infection may be seen as an abscess or boil. Infections caused by MRSA are often more serious, and are contagious to others. In moderate MRSA cases, there are flu-like symptoms of headaches, body aches, fever, chills, and pain at the site of the lesion which is exquisitely tender. Often, within hours, redness and a pus-filled lesion appears at the site of the infection. Warm compresses and a pain-reliever can be used until you are able to see your healthcare provider.
While most spider bites are harmless, the brown recluse spider and black widow are spiders that can cause severe symptoms, especially in children. The area of the bite may become red and painful within hours. At times, two fang marks or punctures can be seen. A bulls-eye ring may encircle the wound, or the area may have blisters or a pustule present. Like the moderate to severe MRSA infections, a fever, chills, headache or a stiff neck may also occur. With severe bites or allergic reactions, one might experience rigid muscles or difficulty breathing. If so, we advise those affected to seek emergent care at your local emergency room.
In any wound or infection, first aid is key. Wash a wound with warm, soapy water as soon as possible. Seek care if you have worsening of symptoms such as redness, warmth, pain, swelling, or if you have flu-like symptoms such as a fever, chills or body aches.
Arachnologists suggest that you capture a spider if you actually see it. This is so they can identify it, and treat you properly. The choice of treatment depends on the symptoms, the known or suspected cause of the infection, and your allergies to medications.