Spider bite misdiagnosis can harm Illinois patients

Readers have likely heard of the brown recluse spider. Though they are rare in Joliet, their habitat ranges from the southeastern U.S. to southern Illinois, according to the state Department of Public Health. Though generally minor, a bite from a brown recluse spider can be dangerous and potentially fatal, so proper diagnosis can be important.

Unfortunately, other potentially serious skin conditions are frequently misdiagnosed as brown recluse spider bites. This can lead to diseases like skin cancer or severe infection not being treated properly, possibly allowing the condition to progress and making treatment more difficult.

Sadly, this can have deadly consequences. For example, a child with a severe infection was misdiagnosed as a spider bite and told to use the standard RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation — on the wound instead of aggressive treatment. The child died as a result of his doctor’smisdiagnosis.

Part of the problem is that doctors often rely on visual diagnosis, which can cause them to mistake something else for a spider bite. To try to reduce this type of misdiagnosis, a dermatologist teamed up with a professor of animal sciences to create a new test for brown recluse spider venom.

According to the professor, venom from brown recluse spiders has several unique compounds. Detecting the presence or absence of those compounds can either lead to a diagnosis or remove the possibility so that doctors will not misdiagnose the wound as such, the partners say.

The test they developed is simple and involves swabbing the wound and testing the sample. They hope to improve the test so that even tiny amounts of venom can be detected.

Source: Wayne County Jounal-Banner, “New Spider Bite Test Could Reduce Misdiagnosis,” June 20, 2013

Failure to Diagnose


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