A tricky question.
Black widow spiders are recognizable by their glossy, bulbous black bodies and the red hourglass mark on the abdomen. Their legs are long and slender. They are found all over the world, and are everywhere in the USA. These creatures prefer dark, quiet, undisturbed areas like woodpiles and unfinished basements—places where “food” is plentiful. They will bite if disturbed/provoked.
There are multiple factors that go into how severe a person’s reaction to a bite might be.
--The evenomation (bite): how much venom is injected.
--The health and size of the victim: children, the chronically ill, and the elderly are more susceptible.
--The reaction of the individual to the bite: some people have minimal reaction, some have much more.
Let’s take for example a single bite in an adult male, and a general reaction.The bite itself is likely to feel like a pinprick. Within an hour, a localized reaction of pain, swelling, and redness develops at the site of the evenomation. These symptoms can be treated at home by washing the wound and elevating the extremity (if possible). Ice at the site may help.
More severe symptoms require a trip to the Emergency Department:Sweating, along with muscle cramps and abdominal pain, which can be severe (patients with unrecognized bites may seem to have appendicitis). Backache can be a problem. Sweating, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and chest pain can occur. Fainting is occasionally seen.
Life-threatening symptoms include shortness of breath and seizures.Pregnant women may go into labor.
Treatment in the ED:
Pain control—generally with morphine.
Anxiety control—with a valium-like drug for sedation.
Antivenin—like a snake bite, antivenin may be given for a severe reaction to a black widow bite. Because this is a “horse serum,” (produced by making a horse produce antibodies to the venom) there is a chance of an allergic reaction. Therefore a skin test is recommended before administration. Giving the antivenin results in significant improvement within a day.
For death by black widow, the best scenario would be an ill individual suffering multiple untreated bites. How many bites and how long untreated is up to you. As there’s no good data about multiple bites, I think you can pretty much create what you’d like. If you intend to kill a healthy adult male, it may take lots of bites—more than the number of spiders likely to be at the location by chance. An underlying heart condition would work for having the bites kill your victim. That scenario could even look like a heart attack, but the bites will be noted at autopsy.
Kelly has worked in the medical field for over twenty years, mainly at large medical centers. With experience in a variety of settings, chances are Kelly may have seen it.
Sometimes truth seems stranger than fiction in medicine, but accurate medicine in fiction is fabulous.
Find Kelly’s fiction at www.kellywhitley.com