Diagnoses of brown recluse spider bites (loxoscelism) greatly outnumber actual verifications of the spider in four western American states

Toxicon. 2003 Sep 15;42(4):413-8. doi: 10.1016/s0041-0101(03)00173-9.


We attempt to demonstrate that physicians overdiagnose loxoscelism (colloquially known as 'brown recluse spider bites') by comparing the numbers of such diagnoses to the historically known numbers of Loxosceles spiders from the same areas in four western American states. The medical community from non-endemic Loxosceles areas often makes loxoscelism diagnoses solely on the basis of dermonecrotic lesions where Loxosceles spiders are rare or non-existent. If these diagnoses were correct then Loxosceles populations should be evident, specimens should readily be collected over the years and there should be a reasonable correlation between diagnoses and spider specimens. In 41 months of data collection, we were informed of 216 loxoscelism diagnoses from California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. In contrast, from these four states, we can only find historical evidence of 35 brown recluse or Mediterranean recluse spiders. There is no consistency between localities of known Loxosceles populations and loxoscelism diagnoses. There are many conditions of diverse etiology that manifest in dermonecrosis. In the western United States, physician familiarity with these conditions will lead to more accurate diagnoses and subsequent proper remedy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Comorbidity
  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Endemic Diseases*
  • Humans
  • Spider Bites / diagnosis*
  • Spider Bites / epidemiology*
  • Spiders / pathogenicity
  • United States / epidemiology