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HomeBiz TechNot Recluse: Scientists Devise Method To Tell Difference Between Brown Recluse Spider Bite, Skin Cancer

Not Recluse: Scientists Devise Method To Tell Difference Between Brown Recluse Spider Bite, Skin Cancer

You’ve been worrying about that strange, swollen, and oozing lesion on your arm for a week now. You’re pretty sure it’s a brown recluse spider bite, but you actually haven’t asked a doctor yet.

What if it’s not a spider bite? In an effort to avoid misdiagnosis, which has become very common in the United States, a team of researchers consisting of a bug scientist and skin doctors released new guidelines that would prove useful in determining what the lump really is.

Misdiagnosis And Mistreatment

Experts say around 40 serious medical conditions have been and can be misdiagnosed as a bite from a brown recluse spider, including diabetic ulcers, antibiotic-resistant staph infection, herpes, Lyme disease, and skin cancer. This is because a brown recluse spider bite is attention-grabbing, even in places where these insects don’t live.

But if it so happens you mistake the lesion as a spider bite, you would miss out on proper treatment for the real disease that’s ailing you. And even if it were a real brown recluse spider bite, it’s still troubling, because researchers say the spider’s venom can cause kidney failure.

“When we see people with cancer or MRSA who get this false diagnosis, it really drives home that you can’t just call everything a recluse bite,” said retired entomologist Rick Vetter, one of the authors of the report.

Thankfully, in a new study, Vetter, William Stoecker, and their colleagues devised apt mnemonics – NOT RECLUSE – that could help avoid misdiagnosis of brown recluse spider bites. The following characteristics would determine if the condition is a spider bite or not.

How To Tell The Difference

N – Numerous

Recluse spiders often bite people in self-defense, then scuttle away. If you have several rotting wounds on your skin, researchers say it’s possibly a bacterial infection, bites from a bedbug, an autoinflammatory disease, a reaction to poison ivy, or shingles.

O – Occurrence

If you got the bite after digging through the garage or the attic, sorting through a pile of laundry, or reaching into a box, then it might be a brown recluse spider bite.

T – Timing

If the wound emerged between November and March, chances are it isn’t from a brown recluse. These insects are usually active during April to October, and most people in North America are bitten during that time.

R – Red Center

The venom of these spiders is known to destroy the tiny blood vessels in skin, so the center of the bite is pale, or in shades of purple and blue. The area surrounding the bite is usually swollen and gets red. If the center of the lump is red, it’s more likely to be an insect sting or arachnid’s bite, or a bacterial infection. It might even be anthrax.

E – Elevated

The bites of these spiders do not bump up. Instead, they create craters. If the lesion is bumpy, it’s not a spider bite, unless it’s on your face.

C – Chronic

These brown recluse bites typically heal after a few months, so if that lesion isn’t going away, it could be something more concerning, such as skin cancer or an autoinflammatory disease.



L – Large

If the lesion is more than 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) wide, it’s not a brown recluse bite.

U – Ulcerates Too Early

If the bite begins crusting earlier than a week or two after it appears, it’s likely to be something else.

S – Swollen

Unless the recluse bite is on your face or feet, it will not swell.

E – Exudative

In medical parlance, exudative means that the lesion leaks. Authors explained that brown recluse bites often do not ooze pus, unless it’s on the toes or eyelids. The presence of pus usually rules out a brown recluse bite.

Check your lesion according to these criteria to determine if it’s a recluse bite. Researchers recommend seeing your doctor first before self-diagnosing.

Meanwhile, details of the study are published in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

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(Via TechTimes)