The red back spiders are commonly found in the urban areas in Australia where they live in flower pots, shades, floorboard, etc. The female spider is found to be more aggressive with bigger body size and sharper fangs. A female red back spider can be identified with a black or dark brown surface with red or orange colored stripes under the abdomen while a male red back spider is usually light brown colored with pale or white stripes underneath the abdomen.
Symptoms of Red Back Spider Bites
At first, the bites does not cause any pain. However, after the initial 15 minutes, pain develops and progressively becomes intense. An hour after biting, piloerection with sweating is observed. Later, the pain starts to radiate from the biting site and spreads to the whole body. Along with increased heart rate, increased blood pressure with severe pain in arms, shoulder, pelvis and back are also observed. General symptoms such as nausea, headache, vomiting are common. These symptoms may last for up to a week or even for months if left untreated.
Are Red Back Spider Bites Dangerous?
In Australia, bites from the red back spiders are extremely common. In most cases, these bites are not life-threatening. The fangs of the spider are very small and the venom they release through their fangs is slow-acting, so in majority of the cases, it's not a cause for concern.
How to Manage Red Back Spider Bites
You can use pressure immobilization as the first aid technique to treat the bite. Wrap the bitten limb appropriately and hold it immobile. However, pressure dressings are not recommended as they can aggravate the swelling and pain of the affected area. You can also apply ice packs over the bite. It should be noted that anti-venom should not be administered by non-professional person, as it can induce severe allergic response.
Major aim of the treatment is to reduce the intense pain caused by the spider bite. NSAIDs, benzodiazepines and analgesics are prescribed to reduce the pain. Anti-venom is given in patients who show severe symptoms. A toxicologist must be consulted before administrating the anti-venom. Since compartment syndrome due to administration of anti-venom can occur, constant measurement of compartmental pressure should be done while administering anti-venom.
For better understanding of management of red back spider, please refer to this flowchart.
Prevention of Red Back Spider Bites
Following are some of the measures that should be employed in order to avoid the bites:
- Wear proper clothing, including long sleeved shirts and full long pants. Wear socks to avoid direct contact with red back spider with the skin
- Use insect repellants such as Picaridin or DEET over the clothes and skin. For proper use of insect repellent, strictly follow the instruction over the pack.
- After coming back from a bush land, place all the clothing in a hot dryer and leave for 15 minutes.
- Check the exposed body areas for the presence of any ticks such as back of the ear, armpits, knees, neck, etc.
Other People’s Experiences on Red Back Spider Bites:
“I am a bush kid who grew up in Sydney. I was the boy who used to poke the sticks in bees and spider holes, and daily bring spiders home in my pockets. I was several times bitten with a red back spider and not once I had to seek any type of medical attention. Slight swelling with mild pain and discomfort was all I experienced after every bite. There is very little need to worry about these ticks unless you have a pre-existing medical condition.”
“It was summers and the grass was dry. I was halfway across the orchard. Suddenly I felt a sharp stinging pain in the toe. I rolled up my toes to avoid touching it with the feet but then I felt the same pain in the other toe. Until then did I realize that I must be bitten. I took off my shoes to check my toes and a red back spider just rolled out of my shoe! Sweating was almost immediately started with severe pain which lasted for days. What came after the pain was extreme itchiness.”
“I am 21 and have lived in Sydney since my birth. One day I was cleaning my patio and suddenly something fell over my head. I checked up and there were about 50 red back spiders over the tree, but I didn't get bitten. I noticed that as long as you leave them undisturbed, they won’t harm you.”