The Oklahoma Poison Control Center warns Oklahomans to clean out their storm shelter to keep family members safe from bites. The center recently received a report of a child who had been bitten by a brown recluse spider while seeking shelter during a tornado warning. A damp dark storm cellar makes a nice home for spiders as well as snakes.
There are two spiders in Oklahoma that cause health problems: the Brown Recluse Spider (Fiddle back) and the Black Widow. The Brown Recluse spider is usually light brown in color with a darker violin shape on the top side of the spider’s middle section. Unlike other species, the brown recluse has three pairs of eyes on its head that look like three tiny black dots. They like to hide, and live for long periods of time without food or water.
"The victim of a brown recluse spider bite often does not realize he or she has been bitten until he or she starts experiencing mild to severe pain two to eight hours after the bite," explains Dr. William Banner, medical director of the Oklahoma Poison Control Center. "Blisters appear usually within 24 hours, and an ulcer may be seen within 48 hours. Pain and itching increases and there may be fever, chills, weakness, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and a rash within 24 to 48 hours," Banner explains. "Dark urine within 72 hours after a bite requires immediate medical attention," he warns. In one or two weeks, the tissue dies and sloughs away and an open ulcer may form. Healing may take six months or longer, and plastic surgery may be required.
The Black Widow spider has a jet-black, patent leather appearance and marble shaped body. Markings on the underside of the abdomen are red, yellow, or orange and often shaped like an hourglass. Banner describes the bite from a Black Widow as usually being a sharp, pinprick like pain, which may subside and reappear as a dull, throbbing ache followed by severe muscle pain and cramps. The venom begins to produce symptoms after about 10 to 60 minutes. Symptoms include abdominal pain, restlessness, sweating, and headache. Board-like hardness of the abdomen or back is common. "A bite from a Black Widow may be serious. Seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten by a Black Widow," Dr. Banner warns. "Antivenom is available but it is not used in all cases."
Snakes also may be found in your storm shelter. Poisonous snakes native to Oklahoma include copperhead snakes, cottonmouth snakes, also known as water moccasins, and rattlesnakes. "Common symptoms of a snake bite include bruising, blurred vision, dizziness, excessive sweating, fainting, localized pain and burning, nausea and vomiting, numbness and tingling, a rapid heart rate, swelling, thirst, tissue damage and weakness," said Dr. Banner. If bitten by a snake, he recommends seeking medical attention immediately.
Pharmacists and registered nurses at the Oklahoma Poison Control Center are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-222-1222. The poison center is a program of the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy and the Children’s Hospital at OU MEDICAL CENTER.