Feature Article

Spider bites: an update on management

James Tibballs
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Two Australian spiders cause serious generalised illness with the possibility of death – the redback spider and several species of funnel-web spiders. Recognition of illness syndromes caused by these is important; specific antivenom therapy is available that curtails the illness and may be life-saving.

Key Points

  • Characteristic syndromes are associated with redback and funnel-web spider bites, and effective antivenom therapy is available for both.
  • The envenomation syndrome of redback spider bite is slow in development; the main features are local and regional pain, although respiratory failure is possible.
  • A bite by a funnel-web spider can be rapidly lethal and must be treated urgently with appropriate first aid, acute resuscitation and antivenom.
  • Redback spider antivenom may be used to treat envenomation by a cupboard spider, and funnel-web spider antivenom may be used to treat envenomation by a mouse spider.
  • Very occasionally, ulcerative lesions may occur after a bite by a white-tailed spider or a window spider, for which debridement and grafting may be needed.