First Aid Travel Health Wilderness

Spider Bites and Travelers

I have to admit that spiders give me the creeps!  But, I am am very interested in them and almost have a love/hate relationship.  Spiders are found in almost every location on the planet and there are some very important spiders for travelers to know about.

Black Widow:

Note red hourglass on abdomen
Black Widow

The Black Widow (lactrodectus) can sometimes have a painless bite. About 10-60 minutes after the bite, the symptoms of abdominal cramps and muscle spasms begin. Nausea and vomiting may occur. Fever is also common. If you think you are bitten by a black widow, proceed to the ER.  Blood pressures can also rise, dramatically. The treatment consists mainly of muscle relaxants for the spasms and some studies advocate the use of 10% Calcium Gluconate.  These spiders are mainly found in the southern parts of North America and Central America.

Brown Recluse:

Brown Recluse
Brown Recluse

The Brown Recluse (loxosceles) bite may or not be painful. About 1-4 hours after the bite, a painful, reddish blister that is surrounded by a bluish/white halo appears. The next 3-6 days will show the blister to become necrotic (dying tissue). Healing is slow and may require surgery to remove some of the dying tissue. If you think you’ve been bitten by a Brown Recluse, go to a doctor. The treatment centers on good wound care with bandages and cleaning the bite area.  Often times, scarring occurs at the area of the bite due to the tissue damage. 

Funnel Web:

Atrax Species
Atrax Species

The Funnel Web spiders  (Atrax species) are known to be very aggressive and will even attack/follow a human. They are  Eastern Australia natives and have very strong neurotoxin. Pain at the bite site can be severe and may require analgesia. Cholinergic symptoms such as mouth paresthesia, sweating, salivation/drooling and diarrhea are common. Muscle cramping and spasm commonly follow a bite, as well. Hypertension is common within the first 30 minutes, followed by hypotension and apnea.

There is specific antivenin for these bites and a victim should immediately proceed for medical attention. Supportive care can include an anticholinergic such as atropine for SLUD (salivation, lacrimation, urination and diarrhea). Beta-blockers have been shown to control hypertension. At first indication of a bite, apply the pressure immobilization technique to decrease venom migration.  This is a very bad one and people should take care in the areas where this spider lives.



Tarantulas can bite, when provoked. A few species are know to have the ability to detach and fling their hairs into the skin/eyes of victims. Severe itch is generally the result and antihistamines (occasionally steroid creams) are the treatment of choice.  These spiders are common pets, where I grew up, and found in the Southwestern part of the USA, Central and South America.  Tarantulas are generally a docile group and are not considered aggressive.

Banana Spider:

Phoneutria spider
Phoneutria spider

Banana Spiders of the Phoneutria species, found in South America, are notoriously aggressive. This very painful bite is followed by diaphoresis (sweating), hypertension, vomiting and vertigo. Death can occur in a few hours, generally from respiratory failure secondary to paralysis. Antivenin exists for these bites. The name comes from the yellowish/green color of the web, not the spider.  Yikes!

General First Aid:

Spider bite first aid should center around the basics, first.  Try to separate all people from the spider and make sure no one can be bitten, a second time.  Keeping safety in mind, an attempt to capture the spider for future identification is important.  The ABC’s (airway, breathing and circulation) of first aid are important in a spider bite.  Make sure the person is breathing well and that their airway (mouth and throat) are clear.  Check a pulse for one minute and record it.  Think strongly about finding an emergency room or health care provider to look the person over.  Keep checking the person’s ABC’s frequently, recording changes in pulse and respiration rate.  This information is important for the health care providers and they will be glad you took the time. 

  • Make sure no one is at risk for being bitten a second time
  • Try to identify the spider or save it for the hospital
  • Monitor the ABC’s (airway, breathing and circulation)
  • Make frequent re-assessments of the person’s ability to breath and their airway
  • Seek medical attention
  • Consider using the Australian Pressure Immobilization Technique

Experienced travelers are used to being in strange areas and coming into contact with new people, events and animals.  Travelers need to keep in mind that there are somethings out there that can hurt them and just because you have never heard of a spider does not mean it won’t bite you.  Recognition that a person was bitten by a spider and trying to identify the spider are critical steps.  Seek medical care early and monitor the person while getting to the hospital.  Oh, and carry a large shoe with you!


  1. This is a great post, even though it scared the hell outta me!! It’s so important to be aware of what spiders are in the area you’re travelling to, and how to deal with a bite. Excellent, keep up the good work!

  2. Pingback: Identify Spiders

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