Acute arthropod envenomation. Incidence, clinical features and management

Med Toxicol Adverse Drug Exp. 1989 May-Jun;4(3):163-73. doi: 10.1007/BF03259994.


Black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) envenomation is found throughout both the temperate and tropical latitudes, and is one of the leading causes of death from arthropod envenomations worldwide. The venom is highly neurotoxic, affecting the presynaptic motor endplate to allow massive noradrenaline (norepinephrine) and acetylcholine release into synapses causing excessive stimulation and fatigue of the motor end plate and muscle. Clinically, patients develop a bite site lesion and pain, abdominal pain and tenderness, and lower extremity pain and weakness within minutes to hours of envenomation. Symptoms progress over several hours, then subside over 2 to 3 days. The recommended treatment of 'common' envenomation is calcium gluconate 10% intravenously, titrated to relief of symptoms; antivenin, although effective, may cause hypersensitivity and serum sickness reactions, and should be restricted to life-threatening envenomations only. Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) envenomations are seen in the Americas and in Europe, and are endemic to the south and central United States. The venom contains at least 8 enzymes, consisting of various lysins (facilitating venom spread) and sphingomyelinase D, which causes cell membrane injury and lysis, thrombosis, local ischaemia, and chemotaxis. Local envenomations begin as pain and itching that progresses to vesiculation with violaceous necrosis and surrounding erythema, and ultimately ulcer formation. Systemic envenomations may be life threatening, and present with fever, constitutional symptoms, petechial eruptions, thrombocytopenia, and haemolysis with haemoglobinuric renal failure. Treatment of local envenomations is conservative (local wound care, cryotherapy, elevation, tetanus prophylaxis, and close follow-up); systemic envenomation requires supportive care and treatment of arising complications, corticosteroids to stabilise red blood cell membranes, and support of renal function. Dapsone 100mg daily has emerged as a promising therapeutic agent in both animal studies and clinical trials. Over 650 species of scorpions are known to cause envenomation (mostly in children under 10 years); they are endemic mostly in arid and tropical areas. Different venoms and clinical presentations are seen across the different species. Most commonly, an inflammatory local reaction occurs with envenomation, which is treated with wound debridement and cleaning, tetanus prophylaxis, and antihistamines. Occasionally the venom is allergenic, and the resultant allergic reaction is treated in a standard fashion.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Venoms / toxicity*
  • Arthropods*
  • Bites and Stings / epidemiology
  • Bites and Stings / physiopathology
  • Bites and Stings / therapy*
  • Humans


  • Arthropod Venoms