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29 June 2005

Spider bites and scorpion stings

Only a few species of spiders are dangerous but all scorpions in South Africa are venomous. Here are first aid tips.

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Only a few species of spiders are dangerous. In South Africa, the button, sac, violin, six-eyed crab, black widow and brown widow spiders cause the most harmful reactions. Spider bites may produce a reddened wheal and an ulcer but in serious cases could lead to intense pain around the bite, sweating, muscle cramps, fever and difficulty breathing.

All scorpions found in South Africa are venomous but only the stings from the Buthidae family (thick tails and thin pinchers) can be fatal. Symptoms include an intense and burning pain, numbness and tingling across the body, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, blurred vision, slurred speech, difficulty breathing or swallowing and shock.

Home treatment

  • Call emergency services with any dangerous spider or scorpion bites. Keep the affected limb lower than the heart. Watch for symptoms of shock. Follow instructions for shock if necessary.
  • If breathing stops, perform CPR.
  • Apply an ice pack right away to reduce swelling and the spread of the venom. A baking soda paste is helpful to relieve itch.
  • Do not use a tourniquet.
  • Give paracetamol for pain. Avoid any medication which could lead to drowsiness.

Prevention

  • Shake out shoes before putting them on.
  • Wear gloves when working in the garden, in basements or near wood piles. Wear shoes, especially at night.
  • Take care when you visit areas where scorpions are common. Be careful when lifting rocks and pieces of wood in the veld. Do not sleep on the ground when camping.
 

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