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Brown Recluse Spider Bites a Possibility in the Ozarks

Eje Gustafsson

It’s just part of life in the Ozarks:  you have to take steps to protect yourself from being bitten by mosquitoes, chiggers and ticks.  There’s another creature that lives here that homeowners sometimes have a problem with.  And this arachnid’s bite can be particularly painful.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more.

Cox Wound Care in Branson treats three to four brown recluse spider bites each year.  The brown, quarter-sized spider, with a fiddle shape on its back, lives outside beneath logs and rocks.  But it’s perfectly content inside houses—any place where it’s dark.  They typically become active in late spring, but you can be bitten anytime.

"If you disturb a box of Christmas decorations, they'll come out of hibernation, and, if they're attacked by just raking your hand through something, they can bite you then," Linda Clavin said.

Linda Clavin is a nurse at Cox Branson Wound Care.  She says, if you think you’ve been bitten by a brown recluse spider, catch the offending arachnid if you can so you’ll have it for identification.  A sign of a brown recluse bite, she says, is a red bulls eye around the wound.

"And then a white ring and then kind of a red ring, and just over a matter of six to eight hours that will turn kind of a blueish color.  The toxin is already starting to destroy tissue," she said.

Clavin says antibiotics to treat brown recluse bites aren’t necessary unless the bite leads to an infection.

According to Clavin, not everyone will have a bad reaction to a brown recluse bite.  But those that have an allergic reaction can have fever nausea, chills and dizziness. Skin grafts can be necessary if the reaction is bad enough.  A wound care doctor, she says, can help.

"The wound care doctor knows when to debride.  There will actually be a deadened area...where the bite actually took place, and it's more of a pinch.  They have vertical fangs, and the venom starts killing tissue almost immediately.  You just don't know how bad it is until it's all discolored, and you want it to stabilize," she said.

She says surgical removal of skin around the bite isn’t always necessary.  With specialized dressings, debridement and careful monitoring, she says often surgical intervention isn’t needed.

If you think you’ve been bit, wash the area with mild soap and water and use a cool compress on it—never a heat pad or a cold pack.  And see a doctor if necessary.

To reduce your risk of being bitten by a brown recluse spider, keep stored belongings in clear containers and shake out shoes and clothing items before putting them on.