Don’t panic about bites

People are often concerned about spider bites, but only 2% of calls to the Poison Information Helpline of the Western Cape (PIHWC) were about spider bites.

During 2016, the PIHWC received 132 spider bite calls but only six cases were antivenom.

Spiders are most active when it is warm, usually from October to April, and they can be found in most homes.

Bites from only four indigenous spiders cause illness: the black or brown button spiders, the sac spider and the violin spider.

Brown button spiders are found around the house, especially in outbuildings and under garden furniture and windowsills. It has an orange or red hourglass marking on the stomach and has a spiky-looking egg sac.

The black button spider does not have any markings and lives mostly in the veld all along the west coast. Its bite is painful and an hour the following may happen:

Muscle pain and cramps;

You may feel as if you cannot breath

Your legs will feel weak; and

You will become anxious and sweat a lot.

If you are bitten by a black button spider or if you have any of these symptoms, go to the hospital immediately. Without treatment the recovery period is very long.

A brown button spider bite is four times less venomous than that of the black button spider, but can also be very painful, with discomfort of the lymph nodes. Brown button spider bites do not need hospital treatment because the symptoms are usually very mild and resolve quickly. Small children and the elderly may need to go to hospital if symptoms similar to that of the black button develop.

The sac and violin spiders are found everywhere in the country and can be found in curtain folds and bedding.

Violin spiders look similar to daddy long legs, which are not venomous.

Both the sac and violin spiders mostly come out to hunt at night. People get bitten because they accidentally disturb the spiders.

At first, the bite looks similar to a mosquito or tick bite. The bump will be red, slightly swollen and itchy.

Within 12 hours painful blisters can develop and there may be a black hole in the centre.

A severe necrotic ulcer can develop if the bite is left untreated. A doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.

Baboon, rain or wandering spiders bites are painful but not venomous. The wound must be disinfected and kept clean.

If you are bitten:

Try to take a photo of the spider. This will help to provide the correct treatment;

If you think it is a button spider, see a doctor immediately;

Do not scratch the wound and keep it clean; and

Continue and complete your treatment with the same doctor.

Call the PIHWC at 0861 555 777 for advice.