All General Surgeons deal with generalized skin infections, ranging from a localized abscess to the widely publicized “flesh-eating bacteria” (necrotizing fasciitis). So any physician who did a year of general surgery (which is most surgical specialties, by the way) will tell you: if a patient thinks he or she has a spider bite, it’s never really a spider. Unless of course the patient saw the actual spider, which very rarely happens. What a “spider bite” virtually always turns out to be is a staphylococcus infection, causing a cellulitis and possibly an abscess. It may start from a microscopic break in the skin, or an inflammation of a hair follicle. Because there is no cut or injury the person remembers, he or she chalks it up to a spider bite.
So what should you do if this happens to you? First, clean the area thoroughly with soap and water. Then take a permanent marker and outline where the redness stops. If the affected area is on an arm or a leg, elevating it and wrapping it gently with an ACE can help the swelling. Cleansing it gently twice a day with soap and water, and applying antibiotic ointment such as neosporin or polysporin may help. Here’s when to see a doctor:
- the redness spreads outside the mark you drew
- you have drainage that looks like pus
- the area isn’t getting better over 2-3 days
And here is when you should go to the emergency room:
- redness spreading outside the mark you drew within a matter of hours
- you have a fever of 101 or higher
- you have pain and tenderness outside the red area
So do people ever get bitten by a an actual spider? Absolutely. Here in the midwest, it’s usually a Brown Recluse. These bites can lead to nasty wounds, so these patients are often referred to – you guessed it – Plastic Surgeons.