Over at White Coat Underground, Pal has the post that I’ve been meaning to write. Earlier this summer, a family member posted on Facebook that a friend of her daughter was nursing a “nasty spider bite” that she got while camping in Michigan. Her post claimed it was a Brown Recluse bite. Being my usually buttinski self, I posted and told her that it was really, really unlikely to be a brown recluse bite, and that the friend-of-the-daughter-of-the-relative should hie thee to her physician and get the “bite” checked out. I told her that rather than a spider bite, it could be a Staph infection and may require antibiotics.
Now, I should note that few people in my family really “get” just what it is that I do, and even fewer of them realize that I spend my days researching bacterial infections, and that Staph in particular is my specialty. So I didn’t take it personally when she pooh-poohed my suggestion and told me I had no idea what I was talking about, and that FOTDOTR’s doctor had already seen the bite and proclaimed it to be due to a brown recluse. Okay, whatever, northern Michigan is completely the wrong place to get a bite from one of these critters and many research papers say the same thing–that “spider bites” usually aren’t bites at all. I pointed this out (and linked some Google images of supposed spider bites in comparison to Staph infection images) and then left the conversation.
A day later, relative posted an update in the thread–FOTDOTR ended up going back to the doctor as the “bite” was getting worse. As I suspected, she had now officially been diagnosed with a staph infection–and yet they were still trying to determine “what kind of spider bit her.” A few hours later, relative asked “What is MRSA? FOTDOTR was just diagnosed with that from the spider bite.”
This is when I started pulling out my hair, since I’d linked info about MRSA several days prior by this point. There was no spider bite, damn it!
Anyway, FOTDOTR got treatment (though relative probably still believes it’s from a spider bite) and I know at least a few people on the thread now may at least think “staph” when someone says “spider bite”–so overall, a good ending.
Despite this widespread belief, most “spider bites” in my part of the country [Michigan, ahem–TS] aren’t caused by spiders, and probably aren’t bites at all. (The feared “brown recluse” does not live naturally in my part of the country, although importations have been reported. They do not generally survive through the winter.) The distinction is important for a few reasons. First, many of us are guilty of wanton arachnicide propelled by our unwarranted fears. Second, many “bites” are probably bacterial infections and should be treated properly. Finally, there’s my own bias that we shouldn’t assume things that aren’t so.