BLACK WIDOW SPIDER BITE




Black widows are notorious spiders identified by the coloured, hourglass-shaped mark on their abdomens.

Black widow spiders are found within the family Theridiidae, which contains 32 recognized species.

Several species answer to the name, and they are found in temperate regions around the world.

In humans, bites produce muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage, let alone death. But bites can be fatal, usually to small children, the elderly, or the infirm.

Fortunately, fatalities are fairly rare; the spiders are nonaggressive and bite only in self-defence, such as when someone accidentally sits on them. The animals most at risk from the black widow's bite are insects—and male black widow spiders. Females sometimes kill and eat their counterparts after mating in a macabre behaviour that gave the insect its name.

What to do if bitten by a black widow spider

The black widow spider produces a neurotoxic protein venom that affects the victim's nervous system. Some people are slightly affected by the venom, but others may have a severe response. The first symptom is acute pain at the site of the bite, although there may only be a minimal local reaction.

Symptoms usually start within 20 minutes to one hour after the bite. Local pain may be followed by localized or generalized severe muscle cramps, abdominal pain, weakness, and tremor. Large muscle groups (such as shoulder or back) are often affected, resulting in considerable pain.

In severe cases, nausea, vomiting, fainting, dizziness, chest pain, and respiratory difficulties may follow. The severity of the reaction depends on the age and physical condition of the person bitten. Children and the elderly are more seriously affected than young adults.

In some cases, abdominal pain may mimic such conditions as appendicitis or gallbladder problems. Chest pain may be mistaken for a heart attack. Blood pressure and heart rate may be elevated. The elevation of blood pressure can lead to one of the most severe complications. People rarely die from a black widow's bite. Life-threatening reactions are generally seen only in small children and the elderly.

The decision to seek emergency care should be made early. If the person who was bitten by a black widow spider has more than minor pain or has whole-body symptoms, seek care at a hospital's Emergency Department. If symptoms are severe, call for emergency medical transport so that evaluation and treatment can start en route to the hospital.

In general, extensive medical evaluation is not necessary. The exceptions are when the history of a black widow bite is not clear, if the bite was not witnessed, and when associated symptoms require the exclusion of more serious disorders, such as heart attack.

The options for home care are limited. Both cold and warm compresses have been recommended, as have hot baths. Obviously, over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be of value in mild cases. Folk remedies have not proven to work.

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