01/02/10 — Spider Bite sidelines hunter

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Spider Bite sidelines hunter

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on January 2, 2010 11:46 PM

While traveling to a hunt at Bladen Lakes Game Land, I stopped at the Kelly General Store for a snack. As happens often, a hunter recognized me and extended his hand across an isle shelf filled with Twinkies and canned beans.

David Burney introduced himself, apologizing for shaking with his left hand instead of his right. He said he hunted deer and squirrels.

"I was bitten on my right hand by a brown recluse spider," said Burney. "I was cleaning out my dog's pen and felt something like a fire ant bite."

The heel of Burney's right hand had what appeared to be a blood blister nearly 2 inches across. The blister expanded from a tiny, open wound at the bite site.

Burney, age 35, works at International Paper Company in Riegelwood. He said it was the first time he'd been bitten by a spider, snake or other potentially life-threatening animal.

"I never saw the spider," he said. "I was picking up trash in Bruiser's pen. Bruiser is a Jack Russell terrier. I picked up a piece of paper and stuck my hand down in the grass. At first I felt an itch, then it got really sore. It was Monday Nov. 23, and it was 24 hours before symptoms began.

"It developed into a whitehead sore, like a fire ant bite. Then it turned into a red spot, and eventually turned purple and started burning like someone had stuck a cigarette or lighter into my hand."

Once the symptoms became ominous, Burney used his phone to check for bite symptoms over the Internet. He was working the graveyard shift so he could not get to the doctor until the next day, two days following the bite.

"It started aching at the site and the pain spread to my elbow," he said. "It was a very sharp pain. I looked at some pictures and knew it was a spider bite because of the symptoms, which didn't match a black widow bite.

"A black widow bite would have given me muscle aches and backache. This was a burning pain, so I was certain I had been bitten by a brown recluse."

The next morning, Burney headed for Black River Health Clinic. A red line extended from the bite area to his elbow.

"Dr. Bruce Williams said it looked like a brown recluse bite and put me on antibiotics and pain relievers," he said. "He told me to keep an eye on it because I could get blood poisoning. It was making a red line up my arm, following my lymph node track to the lymph nodes under my armpit. He said I needed to take antibiotics and stay on them, and if the red line got too far up my arm to go to the emergency room."

The red line stopped short of his armpit. When he awakened on Thanksgiving, the red line had receded to his elbow, but there was a lot of pain in his hand.

After a month, the blister got smaller and looked like a burn blister instead of a blood blister. The skin peeled off and the wound looked like a burn blister that popped, leaving a big sore.

"I keep it bandaged and put antibiotic ointment on it," said Burney. "I was taking oral antibiotics for three weeks. I could still use the hand, but didn't go to work the first four days because the doctor told me the more I exercised the hand the faster the infection would travel up my arm and go throughout my entire body.

"That would have been very dangerous. The tissue the venom affects grows bacteria that can turn into a blood infection if not properly treated."

Burney said a brown recluse spider is about 1/2- to 1-inch long and the body is shaped like a fiddle, leading to the nickname "fiddler." A lot of people mistake another brown spider for it, but it does have markings whereas the fiddler does not. But he learned this from photos because he never saw the spider that bit him.

"I put Sevin dust in the pen to kill any spiders," he said. "I'm more careful about picking up trash and wear leather gloves. If I ever get bit again, I'm going to the doctor right away. If I had waited two or three days longer, I could have been in big trouble."