Father-of-two's life changed forever after spider bite results in both legs amputated

A MELBOURNE man could end up losing all four of his limbs after suffering a vicious bite from a white tailed spider in country Victoria. 

Terry Pareja, visiting family in Birchip, was unaware he was bitten on his right leg until it began to swell 24 hours later and caused him to walk with a limp.

There was no doctor available on the weekend at Birchip, so he was forced to wait until Monday to seek medical advice. 

After a visit to his sister’s doctor Mr Pareja was rushed to Wimmera Base Hospital in Horsham and had emergency surgery to amputate his right leg. 

But the flesh-eating bacteria had progressed.

Mr Pareja was then airlifted to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne where his left leg was amputated.

His sister, Raquel Ogleby, said it could take between 12-18 months before the father of two returned home.

“Last week we met with doctors and they said he will need time and rehab as well and the whole process could take that long,” she said.

“He has been in hospital for 34 days, but he is slowly getting better.

“We will be looking to move house because he will need a bigger space to move.” 

But Ms Ogleby feared for her brother’s arms after doctors conducted surgery to clear more infected skin.

“I am not sure how well his arms are doing,” she said.

“That is what I am scared about because they didn't look too good last time.”

But Ms Ogleby was determined to see the positive at a time of turmoil for her family.

Wimmera Filipino-Australian Club president Marivic Vix co-ordinated a garage sale at a club member’s Stawell residence where up to $2285 raised went towards Mr Pareja’s medical costs.

“We do not know these people, they are strangers to us,” Ms Ogleby said. “We need help right now and this is very touching, there is still humanity in the world.”

Horsham Pest Control owner Bryan Chapple said demand to exterminate white tailed spider clusters was high. 

“They are quite plentiful at this time of year,” he said. 

“They get in on the washing or hide in clothes on the floor, often when you shake clothes off from the floor a white tailed spider falls out.

“They can leave ulcerated bites and the skin can corrode.”

White tail spiders use venom on their prey rather than spinning a web. Photo: David McClenaghan/CSIRO

White tail spiders use venom on their prey rather than spinning a web. Photo: David McClenaghan/CSIRO

According to the Australian Museum, white-tailed spider bites have been controversially implicated in causing severe skin ulceration in humans.

Its website says:

“White-tailed spider bites can cause initial burning pain followed by swelling and itchiness at the bitten area. Occasionally, there are unconfirmed reports of weals, blistering or local ulceration - conditions known medically as necrotising arachnidism.

“A debate continues about the involvement of White-tailed Spider bite in cases of severe ulcerative skin lesions seen in patients diagnosed as probable spider bite victims. Typically, in such cases no direct evidence of spider bite is available. Sensational media reporting of supposed cases of severe "necrotising arachnidism" has given the White-tailed Spider a bad reputation. However, a recent study has monitored the medical outcomes of over 100 verified White-tailed Spider bites and found not a single case of ulceration (confirming the results of an earlier study). The available evidence suggests that skin ulceration is not a common outcome of White-tailed Spider bite.”

Where they are found

Lampona cylindrata is found across southern Australia (south east Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia).

Lampona murina is present in eastern Australia from north-east Queensland to Victoria (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria).*

How to recognise a white tailed spider

Characteristics of the creepy crawlies include:

  • having a cylindrical body
  • being from 1 cm to 2 cm in length
  • being dirty grey to brown colour
  • having glossy legs
  • a characteristic light coloured grey or white spot at the ‘tail’
  • two similar spots near the front of the body might also be present

Where white tailed spiders like to hide in your home

The white tailed spider is found in homes throughout Australia. It tends to be more active during summer. Favourite hiding spots include:

  • bedding
  • towels or clothes left on the floor
  • nooks and crannies
  • beneath mulch, leaves and rocks
  • beneath tree bark

Symptoms of a white tailed spider bite

People are most likely to be bitten on the arms or legs, but can be bitten anywhere. Symptoms of a white tailed spider bite can include:

  • localised irritation, such as a stinging or burning sensation
  • a small lump
  • localised itchiness
  • swelling
  • discolouration of the skin
  • ulceration of the bite (in some cases)
  • nausea and vomiting (in some cases)

What to do if you’re bitten

Always try to keep the spider for identification purposes if you have been bitten. First aid suggestions to treat a white tailed spider bite include:

  • apply an icepack to help relieve swelling
  • see your doctor if the skin starts to blister or ulcerate
  • Information via Better Health Channel * info via Australian Museum