‘Common’ brown recluse spider leaves mark
It has been five weeks since Joanna Vesecky was bitten by a brown recluse spider. The 2-inch by 6-inch wound she has on her upper thigh is merely a blemish compared to earlier stages of the bite. And despite being in constant pain since being bitten, she feels lucky.
"It could have been worse," said Vesecky, who was in danger of losing much of the skin and muscle on her thigh to the spider's venom.
Vesecky was bitten while she was in bed, and she thinks the spider was on the blanket of her 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Lacey. Her husband, William, had brought Lacey into their bedroom to change her diaper on the bed. After the diaper change, Vesecky shook out the blanket and then felt a pain in her leg she thought was a cramp. Then the pain was so sharp and more bite-like that she slapped where the pain was coming from.
"It felt like an ice pick being stabbed through my leg," she said.
The next morning she had a golf-ball size welt on her upper thigh, and she found the dead spider on the floor.
She went to Lawrence Memorial Hospital later that morning, and was given a shot of Benadryl in addition to a reaction to the venom, she also was having an allergic reaction to the bite. Hospital staff hesitated to give her any additional medication because she was 12 weeks pregnant. At home the same day, she began having flu-like symptoms chills, fever, dizziness and later passed out. Her family called 911 and she was in the hospital for six days.
Most of the front of her left thigh was affected by the bite, and doctors said she might require skin grafts the venom causes death of tissue near the bite.
Vesecky wasn't about to let that happen and was able to drastically shrink the affected area with Adolph brand meat tenderizer, which she said draws the venom back to the area of the bite (it works on bee stings, too). She applied the meat tenderizer daily, until she couldn't stand the pain it caused any longer. She also used the liquid from vitamin E capsules on the affected skin.
The bite now has a brownish-green area of dying tissue surrounded by raw skin. It is being evaluated by a plastic surgeon.
"If you get bit, put ice on it," Vesecky said. She kept ice on the bite area around the clock. "That is what has saved my leg so far."
Joanna and William Vesecky, and their 3 children, are living with William's parents, John and Sharon Vesecky, while they are building a new house. The portion of the house they are living in at 1814 N. 600 Road was built in the 1800s, and despite adding larger windows and a skylight, the Vesecky's bedroom is one of the darkest rooms in the house a perfect habitat for spiders.
Joanna Vesecky has already taken the measures to prevent contact with brown recluse spiders and other creepy crawlies. She always inspects the sheets and bedding before going to bed. She keeps the beds and crib pulled out from any walls. She learned to be attentive to such things when she once woke up with a sand scorpion on her stomach in western Kansas about 8 or 9 years ago.
"I never thought it would be me," Vesecky said of getting bitten. She has even taught her 3-year-old son to recognize the spider. "Now I am more conscious."
One thing the doctors don't know is how the spider bite will affect the unborn baby. There just isn't any research or other cases out there of a woman being bitten by a brown recluse spider in the first trimester of pregnancy.
The Vesecky household is now making an attack against the brown recluse spider, and what they have found is a lot more spiders. Glue traps most commonly used to trap mice have collected nearly 30 of the spiders. They are also having the house sprayed regularly.
"They are everywhere," Vesecky said. "They told me at the hospital that probably everyone has them, they just might not know it."
A common household critter
Bruce Chladny, a horticulture specialist for the Douglas County office of the Kansas State Research and Extension, said he is brought one or two spiders, thought to be a brown recluse, a week.
"More times than not, it will be a common brown spider or wolf spider," he said.
However, he said brown recluse spiders are not uncommon. And where there is one, there are a lot more.
"I would be willing to bet you they are in more homes than people realize," Chladny said.
The defining characteristic of a brown recluse spider is a dark, violin-shaped pattern on the spider's back. The neck of the violin points toward the rear of the spider. The spider's color ranges from light tan to dark brown. A mature brown recluse is about the size of a quarter.
Chladny said there is a greater public awareness of the brown recluse spider, which also creates a greater fear.
"People are afraid these spiders are going to come and attack them," he said. "The times the spider bites is when it is trapped in your bed sheets, in your shoes."
Brown recluses are most active at night, while hunting insects and other spiders. During the day, they seek dark places, like shoes, clothes, bedding and closets.
Chladny recommends shaking out clothing before wearing, inspecting bedding before going to bed, looking inside shoes before putting them on, and inspecting both sides of a towel before using it.
"Other than that there is not a whole lot more you can do to prevent the critters," he said.
For households that suspect brown recluse occupants, he said the severity of the infestation can be monitored using glue traps for mice.
"Sticky traps make a wonderful way to monitor for the brown recluse spider," he said. "Place traps in a few locations around the house, and check once a week or month, and note where you find them."
Fatalities caused by the bite of a brown recluse spider are rare, Chladny said, and occur most frequently among children, elderly and people in poor health.
Anyone who is bitten by a brown recluse should apply ice to the bite and see a doctor immediately, he said.
Not a new problem
Becky Skaggs, 19, was bitten by a brown recluse spider about two years ago while she was sleeping. She said the spider was walking across her face and she must have brushed it with her hand and it bit her. At first, it looked like a welt from a bee sting, she said. The dead spider was found the next morning.
The bite caused Skaggs' eye to swell shut. However, she was lucky and did not suffer any tissue damage.
Now she inspects her bed thoroughly before going to bed.
"Now I don't even like spiders," she said, shuddering to even see a picture of a brown recluse.
Her father, Ron Skaggs, suspects the spiders the family still runs across once in a while were passengers in some old boxes of packed items brought into the house.
Joanna Vesecky said they plan to unpack their boxes outside when they move into their new house to prevent bringing the spider with them.