The truth about spider bites in Australia – they’re unlikely to eat your flesh


Ronelle Welton, University of Melbourne and Bill Nimorakiotakis, Epworth Hospital

Recent news reports that a man had both his legs amputated after being bitten by a white-tailed spider have again cast this relatively harmless spider in a negative light. Experts have since said amputations may have been wrongly blamed on a spider bite, and authorities now consider a bacterial infection to be responsible for the man’s injuries. Despite this, the damage to the largely harmless white-tail may have been done. The Conversation

The venom from the white-tailed spider is listed as non-lethal.
It has not been shown to cause necrotic ulcers, which could result in the need for amputation. And there has never been any clear evidence necrotising arachnidism – the name give to a syndrome where the skin blisters and ulcerates following spider bites – has been seen in Australia.

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There is currently no clinical test to determine if you have been bitten by a spider. And there is no blood or swab test that can be performed to positively identify what spider it is if a bite is suspected. Whether it is a bite from a spider or another insect, the management is the same – most will get better without any medical treatment.

Spiders in Australia

The majority of spiders in Australia are voracious predators of insects. For the most part, they play a useful role in lowering insect numbers.

The venom transmitted through bites of some Australian spiders can cause harm to humans and even be life-threatening. The better known of these are the redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti), and the funnel-web spiders (genera Atrax and Hadronyche). Antivenom is available for both spiders.

Redback spider venom can cause a lot of pain. Advice would be to go to hospital if pain lasts for longer than a few hours and simple pain relief is not helping. Funnel-web spider venom can cause local swelling in addition to increasing heartbeat, salivation, muscle spasms and respiratory distress (trouble breathing).

Without appropriate first aid, quick access to hospital and antivenom, these bites can be lethal. For the “big black hairy” funnel-webs, appropriate first aid needs to be applied and it is advisable to call 000.

The redback spider is considered one of the most venomous to humans in Australia.
graibeard/Flickr, CC BY

Other spiders that have concerning bites include the trapdoor, whistling, sac, ground, orb and huntsman spiders. These may cause milder symptoms such as headache, swelling and pain, which does not last for a long time.

The white-tailed spider

White-tailed spiders (Lampona sp.) can be recognised by their cylindrical body shape and a white or grey spot on the end of their abdomen. They are found in eastern and most southern areas of Australia and New Zealand.

These spiders are active hunters, preying on other types of spiders and insects. They may transiently roam inside houses, especially in warmer weather, where they may be found in bedding or clothing that has been left on the floor.

One study of over 70 spider bite cases in which white-tailed spiders were identified showed patients experienced only a mild localised reaction, such as swelling, local pain or headache. To date clinical research has not been able to associate tissue loss with the venom of these spider bites.

Flesh-eating bacteria

The man at the centre of the recent story linking amputations to a white-tail spider bite was said to have a “flesh eating” infection. But there is a very low probability of an association between spiders and necrotisisng fasciitis (commonly known as flesh-eating disease).

Of course, any injury that causes a break in our skin leaves the capacity for bacteria to enter our body. Therefore be sure to keep an injury area clean. Questions have been raised as to the possibility of a spider introducing infections, but again, despite it being theoretically possible, it is unlikely.

Contributing factors to infection are if people have conditions such as diabetes or take medications, such as steroids like prednisolone, that lessen the body’s ability to fight infection.

How to prevent spider bite

  • Leave them alone
  • wear gloves if gardening
  • humanely remove spiders from your home and limit hiding spaces where possible inside the home
  • knock out shoes before putting them on; these are nice quiet homes for spiders.

For first aid after a spider bite, please see the Australian guidelines. Many bites don’t result in envenoming and death is very rare, so it is important to remain calm. But seek medical attention if there are concerning symptoms such as those described above: difficulty breathing, increased heartbeat and pain lasting longer than an hour.

Ronelle Welton, Scientist AVRU, University of Melbourne and Bill Nimorakiotakis, Associate Professor, Epworth Hospital

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The stampede of wind farm complaints that never happened



Image 20170406 16654 gto650
Why were so few complaints about wind farms investigated further? And who made these complaints anyway?
from www.shutterstock.com

Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

National Wind Farm Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, has just released his much anticipated first annual report. The Conversation

In its first year of operation until the end of 2016, the National Wind Farm Commissioner says his office received:

  • 46 complaints relating to nine operating wind farms (there were 76 operational wind farms in Australian in 2015)

  • 42 complaints relating to 19 proposed wind farms

  • two complaints that did not specify a wind farm.

The commissioner’s office closed 67 or these 90 complaints, with the remaining 23 complaints still in process.

Of the 67 now-closed complaints, the office closed 31 because the complainant did not progress their complaint. This suggests these complaints were minor.

The office closed the file on another 32 after it sent complainants more information about their complaints.

This leaves only four, which the report describes two as being settled after negotiations between the parties, and two given the ambiguous category of “other”.

These figures are frankly astonishing.

The complaint investigating mechanism was set up after a Senate enquiry report that cost undisclosed millions to deal with a “massive” problem with wind turbines.

But the hordes of people who apparently needed a way to help them resolve matters have now gone shy.

Chair of the Senate Committee on Wind Turbines was ex-Senator John Madigan, a public critic of wind farms.

John Madigan speaking out against wind farms at the National Wind Power Fraud Rally in 2013.

Other members who signed off on the senate inquiry report included Senator Nick Xenophon, another long-time critic.

Senator Nick Xenophon criticising wind turbines on the Seven Network’s Today Tonight in 2012.

Complaints vs complainants

The National Wind Farm Commissioner’s first annual report avoids two key issues.

First, it doesn’t mention how many complainants made the 90 complaints. The anti-wind farm “movement” in Australia is often busy plaguing politicians and the few supportive media outlets that give it time.

One woman from Victoria often sends out emails to well over 100 politicians and journalists. Others join her to try to demonise wind turbines. Those in this small group appear again and again as submission authors to what have now been three senate enquires and two state government enquiries.

This phenomenon is well known in government circles. In the last three months of 2016, just 10 people submitted half of Heathrow Airport’s 25,000 noise complaints.

The second omission from the annual report is any mention of its budget or expenditure. The Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is independent and has its own website. But unless I missed it, there are no budget or expenditure figures in either the annual report nor the website. Is this a first for an annual report?

We know that commissioner Andrew Dyer gets A$205,000 a year for his part-time role, on a three year contract. With the numbers we now have about the low number of complaints, this sounds like a tough gig. But what about the staff and office costs, which are nowhere to be found.

No complaints in Western Australia and Tasmania

As I reported in my 2013 peer reviewed report into wind farm complaints, there were no records of complaints for Western Australia and Tasmania.

Of the total complaints about operational or planned wind farms, 40 came from Victoria, and 23 from each of South Australia and New South Wales. Just two complaints were received from Queensland about planned farms.

Our study found records of only 129 people who had ever complained about wind farms since the first one was built in Western Australia in the 1980s.

Three years later, after the door is left open for complaints, a mere 90 are received from an unknown number of individuals.

Wind turbines and sickness?

This is all very awkward for those who argue wind turbines cause illness. How is it that if wind farms are a direct cause of illness, that 67 wind farms around the country (88%) saw not one complaint, about health or anything else across a whole year?

The stock answer given here by wind farm opponents is that wind farm illness is like sea sickness: only a few get it. So in the whole of two states, and across 88% of wind farms, there’s apparently no-one with susceptibility to wind farm illness.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who described wind farms as “ugly”, “noisy” and “visually awful”, threw the senate committee a giant political bone.

The committee, and the Office of the Wind Farm Commissioner, put up their “we’re open” shingle and invited the alleged throngs of suffering rural residents to air their problems.

This annual report shows very few did, and the great majority of “complaints” dissolved by being sent information.

This sorry episode in appeasing the wind farm obsessions of a tiny number of cross-bench senators needs to have its time called, fast.

Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.