The bite of the brown recluse spider is normally quite harmless, but unfortunately some individuals can have more severe reactions. Reports of brown recluse spider bites seem to be on the rise this summer in the U.S., but some experts believe the abundance of occurrences may be more of a case of misdiagnosis. So what exactly is a brown recluse spider and how do you know when one bit you?

The Bite

Reports of the rise of brown recluse spider bites have been flooding the news this summer. The problem seems to be more apparent in warmer environments, and as Jackson, Tenn., doctor, Peter Gardner, told WBBJ, his city is “probably the epicenter of brown recluse spiders.” The brown recluse is described as a shy nonaggressive arachnid that chooses to live in dark corners and untraveled areas of people’s homes. The spider can be recognized by its violin-shaped marking on its back and brown coloring. They are typically less than an inch long and have a venomous bite.

At first, the area around the bite becomes swollen. The infected area begins to expand, becoming red in coloring. Symptoms such as fever, shivering, and vomiting may ensue. BrownRecluseSpider.org explains that the bite will eventually grow into an ulcer, measuring between 1 and a half to 2 and a quarter inches, which will usually heal on its own in time. In rare cases, surgery is needed to remove dead tissue. It is advised that if you think you may have been bitten by any spider, that you clean the infected area and get it checked out by a doctor.

Sometimes the removal of the infected tissue can actually cause most of the problems surrounding brown recluse spider bites. Unnecessarily removing the dead skin actually “slows the healing process, and can result in disfigurement that would not occur if the lesion were left alone," Dr. Donna Seger, medical director of the Tennessee Poison Center told Health Day.

Increase In Bites Or Increase In Misdiagnoses?

Bennet Jordan, the staff scientist for the National Pest Management Association, told Good Morning America that nearly 90 percent of bites on humans develop very mild reactions, but added that “in rare instances, a brown recluse bite can cause a severe reaction and may even be deadly.” The bite of the brown recluse spider is difficult to differentiate from other conditions, and this is what Rick Vetter, an expert on the spider from UCTK, believes has caused the reported sharp rise in spider bites. “Unless you actually witness the spider chomping down, you can’t say for sure that’s what it was,” he explained. Often, patients will come in with something such as bacterial infections, diabetes ulcers, and poison ivy and get misdiagnosed with a brown recluse spider bite.

Jessica Blessing, a 19-year-old home health nurse from Nashville, Tenn., is an example of when a brown recluse spider bite goes very wrong. The teen immediately knew she was bit on her leg, and within three hours was throwing up, had a fever of 103 degrees, and found walking difficult, Good Morning America reported. She ended up having to stay in the hospital for five days and still makes weekly visits to the doctor so that he can cut dead flesh from the wound.

Experts stress that Blessing's reaction is extremely rare, but still advise that all children under 12 with a brown recluse spider bite have a urine test for the presence of hemoglobin in blood," to ensure that symptoms do not become life-threatening. "We don't know why [this] occurs in some people with a brown recluse spider bite and not in others, but it is life-threatening and does require immediate medical attention," Seger said.