Experts: ‘Rare Death’ After Spider Bite

Brown recluse spiders are rare in Michigan, but can be found in isolated populations, an expert with Michigan State University says. This photo shows their body and head compared to the size of a penny. (Photo: Wikipedia commons)West Bloomfield Patch – by Beth Dalbey

A healthy 58-year-old Michigan woman has died after she was bitten by a brown recluse spider – a species that most experts don’t believe to be indigenous to the state – in what experts are calling a “rare death.”

Betty Ann Strickland of Tustin, a rural area east of Manistee National  Forest, noticed an what appered to be an insect bite of some sort on the top of her right foot on June 30, her husband, Charles, told WWJ.  

The couple has horses and lives near a heavily wooded area, so getting bitten wasn’t all that unusual and the bite itself didn’t look unusual. By two days later, Strickland could tell something was seriously wrong and he encouraged his wife, a nurse, to go to the doctor.

“I asked her to go to the doctor and well, you’d have to know my wife, but she’s a nurse and going to the doctor just wasn’t something she was into,” he told WWJ. “She told me she’d be OK, she just needed to rest for a while.”

Quick Deterioration

By the morning of July 3, her condition had deteriorated to the point that Strickland insisted she see a physician. The small bite he’d seen a few days before was a bump the size of a marble.

She stopped breathing and Strickland and his daughter, who lives next door, performed CPR for 40 minutes before an ambulance could get to the remote area. Paramedics continued the procedure for another 20-30 minutes, but were unable to revive her.

What made the woman’s death rare is where the arachnid bit her and that it was even in Michigan at all.

Strickland said the medical examiner told him people are bitten in muscle or fatty tissue, but the spider bit a blood vessel in his wife’s foot, and “the toxins were just circulating throughout her blood stream and it was infecting everything, all her organs, and he said it actually shut her whole system down, and that’s what killed her.”

Expert; Michigan Has Isolated Populations

Often called violin or fiddleback spiders, brown recluse spiders are most often found in the south-central United States and prefer hot, dry areas, such as wood or rock piles, according to information on the University of Michigan Health System web site.

But  plant pathologist Howard Russell said he began to change his mind about whether brown recluses are indigenous to the state in 2009, according to a 2011 paper for Michigan State University Extension

“I have been telling people for years that other than those that hitchhiked from more southern states, the brown recluse does not live anywhere in Michigan,” he wrote.

Up until 2009, of the more than 2,000 spiders collected by people and brought to him for examination, only two have turned out to be brown recluses, “and in both of these cases someone in the family had recently traveled to a southeastern state where the spider is common.”

However, after three people sent him spiders that were unmistakably brown recluses, he reluctantly admitted there are small isolated populations of brown recluse spiders living in the Great Lakes State.

The confirmed brown recluse spiders were found in Lansing, Allen in Hillsdale County and Flint.

“I say this reluctantly because of the hysteria that surrounds brown recluse spiders,” he wrote at the time. “It is very likely that 99.99 percent of all Michigan residents will go through their entire lives without ever seeing a brown recluse spider.

Have You Been Bitten?

Brown recluse spiders are about a half-inch long and have a dar violin-shaped mark on the combined head and midsection.

The bites don’t hurt right away, and you may not even know you’ve been bitten until symptoms occur, according to the University of Michigan Health System information. Symptoms include:

  • Reddened skin that may be followed by a blister that forms at the bite site.
  • Mild to intense pain and itching for 2 to 8 hours following the bite.
  • An open sore  (ulcer) with a breakdown of tissue (necrosis) that develops a week or more following the bite. This may take months to heal.

Some people have a severe, systemic reaction to brown recluse spider bites, including the rapid destruction of red blood cells and anemia. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills.
  • Skin rash all over the body with many tiny, flat purple and red spots.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Joint pain.

What to do if you think you’ve been bitten by a brown recluse spider:

  • Remain calm. Too much excitement or movement will increase the flow of venom into the blood.
  • Apply a cool, wet cloth to the bite or cover the bite with a cloth and apply an ice bag to the bite.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet. It may cause more harm than benefit.
  • Try to positively identify the spider or catch it to confirm its type.

A brown recluse bite can be serious and may require immediate medical care. Call a doctor if:

  • You have severe symptoms throughout your body.
  • An open sore and necrosis develop. Necrosis is black, dead tissue.

One thought on “Experts: ‘Rare Death’ After Spider Bite

  1. Learn to recognize the “weed” plantain growing in most everyone’s lawn. You can bruise the leaves until they release juice, and apply as a poultice (leave it on) to the area of any bite or sting. Plantain has several helpful properties, among them anti-biotic, anti-parasitic, it will draw poisons out of bites and help cleanse them from where they are circulating in your body. it can be life and limb saving, but also can help in minor bites and stings, such as mosquito. Disclaimer: check with a qualified medical practitioner; this info is for educational purposes only.

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