FOUR years ago Amy Jordan was bitten by a white tail spider and ever since she has suffered the consequences.
The Bathurst woman was at home when she felt a burning sensation on her neck and another on her shoulder and spotted a white tail spider.
“I could feel a burning sensation around my back and my face. It felt like my face was on fire,” she said.
“Over the next couple of days, the wound got bigger and sorer and I got body aches, sweats and my head was so sore that I thought my head was going to explode.”
The bite marks then progressed into open weeping wounds.
Ms Jordan said the symptoms flare up each year, and while she has had no official diagnosis that it was a white tail spider bite, she believes it is the case.
The other problem, she said, was that Bathurst Hospital’s emergency department (ED) staff refuse to treat her for a white tail spider bite and instead treat her for shingles or ulcers during her annual flare ups.
A Western NSW Local Health District spokesman said the symptoms Ms Jordan presents with were inconsistent with that of a white tail spider bite.
“Prospective studies of definite bites caused by white tail spiders found that none of these spiders cause necrotic lesions [ulcers and lesions],” he said.
“The bites can cause local pain and redness and less commonly a persistent red mark and associated itchiness.”
The spokesman also rebuked Ms Jordan’s claims that ED staff were inadequately trained to deal with spider bites, and said staff were trained to NSW Health guidelines.
Australian Reptile Park head of spiders Kane Christensen agreed that Ms Jordan’s symptoms were inconsistent with a white tail spider bite.
“The largest study ever on white tail spider bites … found that white tail spiders, although often implicated in causing necrotising arachnidism or flesh eating ulcers, were not to blame for this,” he said.
I could feel a burning sensation around my back and my face. It felt like my face was on fire.Amy Jordan
“It is becoming more and more common for medical professionals to understand the relative unlikeliness of a spider bite developing ulcers that do not heal.”
Mr Christensen said a number of previously confirmed white tail spider bites were actually bacterial infections, fungal infections, diabetic ulcers and even misdiagnosed skin cancer.
Ms Jordan, however, remains adamant that it was a white tail spider bite and hopes to raise more awareness in the community and among medical professionals.
Statement: Australian Reptile Park
Questions from the Western Advocate with answers by Australian Reptile Park head of spiders Kane Christensen.
Q – What are the signs and symptoms of a white tail spider bite?
A – Localised pain and swelling on the bite site in the majority of cases
Q – Can these signs and symptoms return following the initial bite? For how long?
Generally not. The largest study ever on white tail spider bites was conducted between 1999 and 2002, consisting of over 130 documented and confirmed white tail spider bites. The results from the study found that white tail spiders although often implicated in causing necrotising arachnidism or flesh eating ulcers were not to blame for this.
Q – What is the best treatment for this type of spider bite?
A – A white tail spider bite is generally fairly painful as they have robust fangs for penetrating the exoskeleton of other spiders, their favourite prey item. Because of the pain of the bite, an ice pack is usually used to numb the area and also reduce the swelling.
Q – Can there be misconceptions in the medical community about how best to treat someone following a white tail spider bite? What are they?
A – Following the largest definitive study of white tail spider bites, it is becoming more and more common for medical professionals to understand the relative unlikeliness of a spider bite developing ulcers that do not heal. It is suggested by the professionals in the area of treating spider bites that further diagnosis should be considered before concluding that it is a spider bite doing the damage.
Q – Can these signs and symptoms be confused with another common medial problem?
When the researchers were looking into white tail spider bites and people that had been diagnosed with white tail spider bites, they found a lot of previously confirmed “white tail spider bites” were actually bacterial infections, fungal infections, diabetic ulcers and even misdiagnosed skin cancer.
Mr Christensen said for more information to refer to a published study by Professor Geoffrey Isbister who is a toxicologist from Newcastle.
Statement: Western NSW Local Health District
Questions from the Western Advocate with answers from a Western NSW Local Health District spokesman.
Q – What are the signs and symptoms of a white tail spider bite?
A – There are two spiders found in Australia that cause specific clinical side effects. These are redback and funnel web spider bites. All other spiders will almost always only cause minor effects and require symptomatic treatment.
White tail spiders are common and found in homes in eastern and southern Australia. Prospective studies of definite bites caused by white-tail spiders found that none of these spiders cause necrotic lesions. The bites can cause local pain and redness, and less commonly a persistent red mark and associated itchiness. An alternative diagnosis should be sought when symptoms are more severe than listed above.
Q – Are Bathurst Hospital ED staff trained on signs and symptoms of spider bites, including white tail spider bites.
A – Yes. Management for all snake and spider bites is as per the NSW Health Snakebite and Spider bite guidelines.
Q – Amy Jordan woman claims ED staff tell her that she has shingles and treat her with oral antibiotics, however, this does not work and the woman says the only treatment that works is intravenous antibiotics. Is this the suggested treatment for white tail spider bite flare ups?
A – There is no such clinical diagnosis as white tail spider flare ups.
Q – Amy Jordan said she has requested a skin swab when she was there recently with a weeping open wound at the site of the original bite, yet said staff refused to conduct one. Is it protocol for staff to swab open wounds to determine what the cause of the flare up is?
A – No. Swabs are only used if further information is needed to guide clinical decision making.
Q – What method of treatment would you suggest for Amy Jordan?
A – We are unable to comment.
The Western NSW Local Health District spokesman said for more information about treatment of spider bites to visit the NSW Health’s Avoiding tick and spider bites page.