Pattern of Spider Bites and the Influence of Media Reports of Spider Bites on Calls Received at the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre, South Africa


  • Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg Poison Information Centre, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Stellenbosch University, Division of Emergency Medicine, Cape Town, South Africa


Various factors play a role in the medical effects of spiders on humans, like journalism. Therefore this study aimed to determine the influence of media reports on calls received at the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre. A retrospective analysis of the database was conducted from January 2010 - December 2013. Media reports were obtained from a web search and the archives of all major South African newspapers and the media group 'Media24'. Calls pertaining to spider bites were compared 30 days prior to and 30 days after publication of articles covering spider bites. Only 2.6% of the calls received related to spider bites. Most of these calls (72.5%) were received from the general public. Spiders were witnessed in a third of suspected spider bite cases of which only 11.6% were identified. Most patients presented with local swelling (25.7%), pain (18.3%) and redness (17.1%). Antivenom was advised in 5.1% of cases. Only articles in nationally distributed newspapers/magazines caused an increase in call volume. History pertaining spider bite is often unreliable. Necrotic arachnidism is over-diagnosed and is often a convenient diagnosis for unexplained local tissue or dermal problems. Most articles were sensationalised and not verified. Nationwide media reports on spider bites raised the number of calls to the centre. Poison centres should be prepared for such a possible influx in calls. The diagnosis of spider bites should only be made with substantial evidence to help debunk the myth surrounding spider bites.


Media, Spider, Poison, Information.

Subject Discipline

Pharmacy and Pharmacology

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