My book of Niagara Falls images from 2011 is now published and available from Blurb

Monday, February 18, 2008

Redback Spider Bite

I was recently working in my garden, wearing heavy gloves and shoveling dirt, when
my left ring finger started throbbing as if I had hit it with a hammer. This was painful and puzzling, as I did not remember injuring myself. Further, I could not see any evidence of damage commensurate with the pain I was experiencing. I tried to ignore it but the throbbing did not abate. I struggled on finishing the job, but becoming increasingly irritable, much to my family’s annoyance. By early evening I needed to lie down. At this time I also noticed my feet were becoming painful, particularly the soles of my feet. And more strangely, my shins were sweating profusely. So much so that I needed to put a towel under them to soak up the perspiration. I was not feeling well and contemplated visiting the doctor. My wife had mentioned the possibility of spider bite but I had not noticed being bitten so I was not convinced. However a quick search of the internet showed she was almost certainly correct. This authorative article, “the global epidemiology, syndromic classification, management, and prevention of spider bites” by JAMES H. DIAZ (http://www.ajtmh.org/cgi/reprint/71/2/239.pdf) described very familiar symptoms and also mentioned our local nemesis, the Redback. Crucially he mentions that “Lower leg pain with burning feet and lower extremity sweating may occur, even after upper extremity bites”!
Further I could expect the symptoms to last several days, which they did, although I felt better the following morning. However, by the evening I was feeling unwell again with sore aching feet. Most strangely, a band about seven centimeters long on my left wrist began to sweat for the first time and my shins became exceptionally sweaty again. The towels came out again. By the third day I was feeling somewhat better but a small spot on my left wring finger began to itch. Of course I scratched it, which did not help. This small spot became inflamed and is shown in the picture a week after the initial incident.

I chose not to go to the doctor based on my personal judgment. Please don’t base your decision on mine however. Particularly if you are very unwell.

All in all this was a very unpleasant experience and not one I wish to experience again. I certainly will have even greater respect for spiders in the future.

Since then I have told many my tale and a senior doctor I know recounted how he had diagnosed spider bite among Australian soldiers who were suspected of malingering. They had apparently fallen prey to Redback spider bites in their bush camp where insufficient attention had been given to clearing their webs from under the toilet seats. Once this was done, the “malingering” disappeared.

So Redbacks have a bad reputation (I am assuming it was Redback that bit me… it seems likely) and they deserve respect. They can kill but it is not as likely as many think.. They certainly can make you body react in strange and unpleasant ways however… For more info try http://www.toxinology.com/fusebox.cfm?fuseaction=main.spiders.display&id=SP00054 .

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