What to Do If You're Bitten by a Spider

The good news for those who fear spiders is that 99.9 per cent of the world's 46,000 spider species are not dangerous to humans, or our pets. However, spiders still strike fear into the hearts of many, especially the prospect of being bitten by one.

Luckily, in most cases, what many think are spider bites are in fact caused by other arthropods such as fleas and ticks.

According to Chris Buddle, an arachnologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, spiders are unlikely and even reluctant to bite humans.

He told LiveScience: "I've been handling spiders for almost 20 years, and I've never been bitten. You really have to work to get bitten by a spider, because they don't want to bite you."

In South Carolina, a report showed the number of diagnoses of brown recluse spider bites in the state greatly outweighed the number of actual spider bites.

The 2007 report revealed there were 478 diagnoses in 1990, and 738 in 2004.

However, further research concluded there had only been 44 verified brown recluse spider bites in the region from 1953, meaning the number of diagnoses was grossly overestimated.

Though it seems being bitten by a spider is unlikely, it is best to be armed with knowledge so you can get the treatment you need.

What Are the Types of Poisonous Spiders in the U.S.A?

Black widow
A stock image of a black widow spider Getty Images

Speaking to Newsweek, Dr. Jerome Rovner of the American Arachnological Society said there are very few spiders which pose a threat to humans or animals, and only two of these species are seen in the U.S.

He said: "Of the nearly 4,000 species of spiders in the U.S., only two kinds are dangerous: widow spiders and brown recluses. The hobo spider is no longer considered dangerous."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stopped citing the hobo spider as a venomous species in 2017, as little evidence could be found of its dangers.

The most famous spider of the widow family is the black widow, which is found in North America, but there are actually many more species within this genus.

The black widow has a round, black body with red or white marks along it, and contains latrotoxin in its venom which can cause muscle ache, sweating and vomiting, among other symptoms.

The brown recluse spider has long legs and a brown body, but its body is usually smaller than an inch in size.

Their venom has a mixture of toxins and can cause similar symptoms to a black widow, as well as inflammation and skin sores.

Do Black Widows and Brown Recluse Spiders Bite?

Brown recluse spider
A stock image of a brown recluse spider Getty Images

Technically, these spiders do bite, however as the name of the brown recluse spiders suggests, this is not a regular occurrence.

In a report from Richard Vetter in the Journal of Medical Entomology, a home in Lenexa, Kansas, was infested with 2,055 brown recluse spiders, with 400 of these large enough to bite and cause harm.

However, the inhabitants were unharmed despite some confrontations with spiders, as were those living in two other infested homes in Missouri and Oklahoma.

Speaking of spiders in general, Rovner said: "Unlike what Hollywood films show, spiders do not deliberately attack humans. They bite in self-defense, especially when accidentally pressed against our skin."

If these spiders do bite, the amount of venom dictates what treatment is required, so it is best to have this seen by a physician or in the emergency room.

What To Do With a Spider Bite

Stock image of spider on skin
A stock image of a spider on skin Getty Images

In the case of a black widow or brown recluse spider bite, it is best to have this looked at by a medical professional.

However, if any spider bites you, Rovner explained the importance of catching it in order to classify it, as this can help work out the appropriate remedy.

He said: "People wake up in the morning with a localized pain or itch and assume it was caused by a spider, which is not so in the majority of such skin wounds. Various kinds of other arthropods (fleas, bedbugs, ticks, chiggers, etc.) are more likely the cause of night time 'spider bites.'

"However, if a spider actually was seen causing a bite, the bite site would usually show some redness, some slight swelling, and cause some temporary pain or itching.

"With a magnifying glass, it might be possible to see the pair of fang marks. It's important to catch the spider for identification, if it turns out to cause very extensive symptoms."

Usually, these bites look red in color and may form a welt, and become itchy or swollen.

According to Healthline, there are simple ways to treat a spider bites that are similar to bites from another insect, such as a mosquito.

Spider bites tend to take longer to heal than mosquito bites, so this is important to bear in mind when treating these at home.

Treatment options include swelling reduction through elevating the area and applying an ice pack for 10-minute intervals.

It is also important to avoid infection, which can be managed by cleaning the area with soap and water or applying antibiotic ointment if there are blisters forming.

The area may become itchy, so it is a good idea to take an antihistamine to help with this.

If other symptoms develop, such as muscle cramping, itching, nausea or fever, these may go away on their own, however if they persist or you suspect you have been bitten by a venomous spider, visiting a physician is the best course of action.