ASK THE GP: Could I have been bitten by a poisonous spider in my sleep?

Question: I woke at 3am with a nasty pain in my left arm and a spider in my bed. I threw it out of the window, but the next day I was still in pain and my wife saw a bump on my skin which she thought could have been a black widow bite. I was unaware spiders in the UK had such a harmful bite.

Allen Togwell, Blackheath, London.

Answer: Only around 12 of the 600 or more species of spider found in the UK are known to bite, and none is a major health risk. A black widow bite, however, is extremely dangerous — but they are not native to the UK.

‘False widow’ spiders (so-called because of their resemblance to black widows) arrived here in cargo in the 1870s and are the most venomous in this country, though no deaths have been recorded from their bites. The main concern is an infection at the site of the bite — as with any penetrative wound, there is a risk that bacteria are introduced.

The false widows (there are six types) have distinctive cream markings on a brown body with reddish-brown legs and most of them are about the size of a 50p coin.

‘False widow’ spiders (pictured) (so-called because of their resemblance to black widows) arrived here in cargo in the 1870s and are the most venomous in this country, though no deaths have been recorded from their bites

‘False widow’ spiders (pictured) (so-called because of their resemblance to black widows) arrived here in cargo in the 1870s and are the most venomous in this country, though no deaths have been recorded from their bites

I became aware of them five years ago when one of my patients sustained a false widow bite — confirmed as he had taken a photo of the spider with his phone. The area around the bite was red and swollen, several centimetres across, with a centre of black, dead tissue the size of a fingernail.

Over the following days he developed infected boils at different sites on his body; bacterial cultures in a lab confirmed infection with an aggressive Staphylococcus organism, most likely from the bite.

The infections were treated with a prolonged course of flucloxacillin, the only antibiotic to which the bacteria were sensitive.

This was my first experience of an infected spider bite in more than four decades as a GP — in other words, these kinds of infections are not common.

More typically, a bite from a false widow spider is about as painful as a bee sting; there will be redness and swelling caused by the injected venom with intense itching. The wound may be slow to heal, but there is no further complication.

Question: My son-in-law suffers with what appears to be repetitive strain injury through his work as a picture framer, with pain from his right shoulder all the way to his hand. Neither physiotherapy nor tramadol have helped.

Write to Dr Scurr

 To contact Dr Scurr with a health query, write to him at Good Health Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email [email protected] — including contact details.

Dr Scurr cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Replies should be taken in a general context and always consult a GP with any health worries.  

Name and address supplied.

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