Background: The brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) has been recognized as a cause of necrotizing bites since at least 1957, but most of the literature consists of laboratory studies using animals, human sera, or case reports of more dramatic examples of bite reactions. Our goal was to develop a more comprehensive clinical description of the brown recluse spider bites treated by family physicians.
Methods: Two preprinted, postage-paid cards were given to physician members of the Oklahoma Physicians Research Network. One card was used for recording examination and treatment data, and the other was for tracking the progress of the bite until it was completely healed. For comparison, similar information was collected from the local poison control center.
Results: From April 1996 to August 1998, the physicians recorded 149 bites. Most of the victims were women aged 18 to 65 years, and most sought treatment within 3 days. Pain was common but not universal. Most bites were located on the extremities. Erythema was always present, but necrosis was present in only 40% of the bites. Some systemic signs or symptoms were common. The most frequent forms of treatment were systemic antibiotics (66% of cases) and conservative wound management (56%). Only 1 hospitalization occurred; 43% of the bites healed within 2 weeks; and only 13% resulted in scarring.
Conclusions: The brown recluse spider bite is a relatively common problem treated by family physicians in Oklahoma. Most bites are not serious. More research at the practice level is needed to develop diagnostic criteria and to explore the effectiveness of various treatment options.