Black widow bite sends man to hospital

His arm swelled up to the size of a football and went to ER twice.

June 9, 2010 

Black widow spider.

Those three words can strike fear in many hearts. And although most of the time a bite from the shiny little arachnid isn't an emergency, sometimes it is.

For one Atwater man, a bite from at least one spider meant a four-day stay in the hospital.

The man, who doesn't want his name used, was bitten on his hand and watched as it ballooned to the size of a football.

His wife took him to Mercy Medical Center's emergency room, where he received antibiotics and pain medication and then went home.

But he didn't get better. After another visit to the ER, the man ended up in the hospital on intravenous antibiotics. Mercy doctors told the man he may have been bitten by more than one spider, possibly a nest of them.

"The pain can be significant," said Dr. Charlie Kano, a primary care physician at the Family Care Clinic in Merced.

The black widow is one of only a few species of spiders dangerous to humans. In the mainland U.S., the black widow and the brown recluse are the most common ones.

According to the Mayo Clinic, black widow spiders like warm climates and dark, dry places where flies are plentiful. Closets and woodpiles, along with barns, are common sites for the spider.

Although a black widow bite is rarely lethal, it is serious. The spider can be identified by the red hourglass marking on its belly. The bite from a black widow often feels like a pinprick, and victims may not know they have been bitten for awhile.

But within hours, intense pain and stiffness can creep in. Common symptoms can include chills, fever, vomiting and severe abdominal pain. Only the female spider is dangerous to humans.

"A bite can cause a lot of muscle cramps and pain," Kano said. "Usually the cramps are in the stomach."

A trip to a physician or emergency room, depending on the severity of the pain, is usually prudent, Kano said.

The Atwater man who ended up in the hospital for four days underwent an especially severe reaction to the bite.

"Usually, we can control the symptoms with pain medications," Kano said. "But some people may have to stay in the hospital to get the pain under control."

According to the California Poison Control System, no one has died from a black widow spider bite in more than 10 years. Many times the spider won't inject any venom into the bite, and no serious symptoms develop.

"If the pain is severe, a trip to the emergency room may be necessary," said Kano.

The black widow's parlor is definitely not one you wish to walk into.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service