I think you know what’s coming. But before that, an important message.
I realise that some of you may have found this page because you have just been bitten by a Redback Spider and you want to know what to do. You are looking for urgent medical advice.
Here it is…
On with the post. This is the story of when I was bitten, what it was like and why I didn’t go to hospital. I did seek medical advice though, speaking to a doctor and you will be able to read the advice I was given.
Finally, in the comments below you will find stories from many people who have been bitten by the redback and how it was for them.
The Australian Redback Spider
One of Australia’s most feared spiders is the Redback. Just before I moved here to Australia, one of my friends back in the UK who had lived and worked in Australia for a year at some point, told me that Redbacks were so strong and powerful that they could actually bite your foot through your thongs. (That’s flip-flops to us English).
Dave, you were talking twaddle!
But what is it really like to be bitten by a Redback Spider? The chances of finding out are quite remote, most sources quote around 2,000 Redback bites occur in Australia each year. So by my maths I would have a one in 10,000 chance of finding out.
Lucky, lucky me……… On Saturday, I found out!
So here’s what happened. On Saturday at around four o’clock in the afternoon, as the sun was getting cooler, I decided to do a bit of tidying up in the garden. It’s autumn here and a perfect time for trimming back the weeds and the overgrowth just ahead of winters dry weather.
By about a 5:45 PM I’d finished chopping off all the excess growths and I was picking up all of my trimmings in large bunches, carrying them up the driveway and throwing them all into one big pile. It was getting quite dark so I couldn’t really see much.
All of a sudden, whilst transporting one of these bunches I became aware of intense pain in the back of my wrist. The pain grew quite fast and although I have never hammered a nail into any part of my body, this was how I imagined it would feel.
As the pain grew even more, I decided to go in doors and take a look at it under the light. This is what I saw……
Well, if anything, a very very tiny barely visible white mosquito bite like bump was all I could see. But the area around the pain was starting to look red and flushed.
Then it started to sweat, but just in that little circle where the pain was, nowhere else. I’ve never seen anything like it. I took a shower…….. that’s just something I like to do now and then…… and I washed off all the sweat at the same time. But out of the shower after having dried myself, I watched as the beads of sweat formed another circle around the back of my wrist again.
But by now the intense nail penetration like pain of before was fading, which was good news. But that pain was being replaced by a new, burning pain, which was bad news. But given the choice though, I preferred the burning.
Intrigued, I decided I would ask Google Australia what had bitten me, so I searched for “identify bite sweat” because for me, the localised sweating was the identifying factor. And that’s when I discovered that most of my search results led to the Redback Spider bite.
“Can’t be,” I thought “those things kill!” (Well, they haven’t since 1956.)
The more I read about the Redback bite, the more likely it seemed that it was a Redback that bit me.
- Bites occur typically when the spider is disturbed in the garden or shed. (Tick)
- The initial bite may not be felt. (Tick)
- Puncture marks are not always visible. (Tick)
- Local intense pain follows after about five minutes. (Tick, probably, I didn’t feel the bite remember.)
- Localised sweating often occurs around the bite. (Tick)
- May cause a burning sensation. (Tick)
By now it was around 6:30 PM and many of the websites I had visited advised anyone bitten to seek immediate medical attention. But I was feeling just fine and to be truthful, the pain subsided and was now really quite manageable. My only symptom was still the red flushing, some burning and the 2 inch circle of sweaty and very sticky skin.
But I had also read in my research that the Redback Spider’s venom was very slow acting and took a long time to find its way around your body. I didn’t like the idea of turning green and warty at midnight and thinking “Dang! I should have got some antivenom.” So I telephoned my doctor who was very helpful last time we had an emergency out of hours.
My Doctors Advice
He was out but his wife (also a doctor) answered the phone and she was very helpful. Here’s what she had to say….
“Lots of people get bitten by Redback Spiders and for most it is not a problem. It is only a very small minority who suffer a reaction and if it is going to happen, it will happen within around three hours. So the next couple of hours are critical. If you suffer from palpitations, nausea, vomiting, headaches, difficulty breathing, abdominal pains or a fever any time before 9 PM, get yourself to a hospital. We don’t carry the antivenom here at our local surgery.
“Take an antihistamine tablet if you have one, use an ice pack to ease the pain if you want to and drink plenty of water.”
Well I didn’t take an antihistamine, I didn’t use an ice pack but I did take some of her advice about drinking plenty of water. When I say “some”, I took note of the “drink plenty” part and ignored the “of water”. I hit the beer fridge!
Well, that’s what happened when I got bitten by a Redback Spider. Was it a Redback? Well, just after I came off of the phone to the doctor, Beninoz and his family arrived. We were having a slap up a pizza together. Yum!
Before I told him anything of my research, I showed him the bite and asked him what he thought it was. “Redback” was his answer. The next day I spoke to Lisa, a born and bred Aussie who was bitten by a Redback when she was a little girl.
“Did you get the burning? Did you get the intense pain? Was there no sign of an actual bite? Sounds like a Redback to me.” was her verdict.
I can never be 100% certain it was a Redback bite, but I would say I am 90% sure. For me, it was nowhere near as bad as I would have thought it would be. Getting bitten by a Redback Spider would have ranked really high on my list of things NOT to do. Now that it has happened, well, it wasn’t so bad.
Maybe I’m just lucky I’m not one of the minority who react badly, maybe my Redback was just a tiny little Redback, maybe my Redback got brushed off of my wrist before she had finished envenomation, or maybe my Redback wasn’t a Redback at all.
Either way, my experience wasn’t that bad. But according to my research, around 250 Redback Spider antivenom are administered each year here in Australia. So it sounds to me like over 10% of those bitten do react badly and will need medical attention, which is what many websites recommend that you seek. Which is, I suppose, what I did, having phoned my doctor.
So I am not going against the advice given in any other website, I’m just letting you know what happened to me. If it had been my daughter who was bitten, she’d have been straight off to hospital. But I will say that the Redback Spider bite, for some, may well not be anywhere near as bad as you thought it would be.
If you’ve been bitten by a Redback Spider, I’d love to hear if you think it was a Redback that bit me. What was your experience like? There’s no need to register, just enter your comment below.
Did anything else happen on Saturday? Yes, actually it did. And this event really should have ended in death. But I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia
Update: December 2013
Redback Spider antivenom doesn’t work!
Yes, apparently it’s true. We had a comment from Jenn below (19th of December 2013) who had been bitten by a Redback Spider and despite being in some quite obvious trouble, the doctors treating her did not use antivenom.
They gave her steroids, antihistamines, she was put on a nebuliser and I believe also given adrenaline. But no antivenom. This surprised me so I did a little research, and found an article from just last month by ABC News.
That’s comforting, isn’t it? It will be interesting to see how this one develops.
Update: March 2014
Not so fast! Let’s get a second opinion on this from a doctor who has treated many envenomated patients over the years. See what he has to say in my post…
Update: May 2014
There was one more question I wished I had asked in the above-mentioned interview, but I forgot. It’s a question that has also been raised and answered in the comments below, but it would have been lovely to have got the opinion of an expert such as Professor Julian White.
Fortunately for me I got a second chance, and you can read the answer by visiting the following post…