Subject: Those of a Nervous Disposition...
From: Alex Kemp
Date: Tuesday, 30 September 2014 18:07:40 +0100
To: Micaela Kemp, Liisa Kemp, Davin Kemp

Those of a nervous disposition, look away now.

The Autumn Equinox was a few days ago (21 September). Steadily the Earth turns, and here in the northern hemisphere spiders seek out caves to safely over-winter. For some weeks now I've been using glass bottles to trap humungous-sized spiders on the walls of my house (doing my damnedest not to chop their legs off) and putting them outside. It's a game that we play. They come inside; I throw them back out; 2 minutes later they've scuttled back inside again.

Still, no matter what their size or shape, so far none of them have looked like this one (the false widow spider):

Steatoda nobilis (the false widow spider)

...and just as well, as this is Britain's most venomous spider (nobody has yet died of it's bite, but... well, read on).

The false widow spider (Steatoda nobilis) was first reported in Britain in Torquay, Devon in 1879. The most likely story is that it arrived together with a consignment of bananas from the Canary Islands. Since that date these invaders have slowly spread. In 2013 Mark Champion from the Wildlife Trust told the BBC that "they have reached the Wash" (Lincolnshire), but I think that he under-estimated their spread, as we shall see in a few moments.

This spider is actually quite small. The female spider is much bigger--about the size of a 10p coin--whilst the male would fit onto a 5p coin. It is also not aggressive, and the bite is reported to be no more painful than a wasp or bee sting. However, everything changes after that point. The bite is incredibly venomous, and typically causes a swelling the size of a tennis ball; it is not unusual for the area to turn black (a very bad sign).

Possibly the funniest story--although not for her--is of the nurse that got bitten on her bottom (the spider crawled into her onesie). The un-funniest story is even more recent (yesterday) and is of Andrea Wallace, who works as a hairdresser and, after being bitten in a park in Sunderland, has had to have her finger amputated:
Andrea's hand after the spider bite

The problem for Andrea wasn't directly the bite nor the venom; her problem was that the spider doesn't brush it's teeth. They were therefore covered in bacteria and, unfortunately for Andrea, in her case were covered with the flesh-eating bug 'necrotising fasciitis'.

So what, you ask, is 'necrotising fasciitis'? The answer is, probably one of the scariest bugs known to mankind.

The whole of our body (well, almost all) is covered by something called a 'fascia'. It lies just underneath the skin, as a sheath between the skin & the flesh, and is one of the protective membranes between us & the outside world. That is the part of the body that is eaten by 'necrotising fasciitis'.

So, that is the 'fascia' bit of `necrotising fasciitis'. Now what about `necrotising'? That comes from the Greek for 'corpse' ('nekros') and has, essentially, the same meaning.

So, a scary bug with a scary name. However, you ain't heard nuthin' yet, because that's not the scary part of this bug. No sir, the scary part is that it kills you in minutes whilst the doctors watch it eat your body below your skin so fast that they can see the leading edge move. And there is no cure! The only way to fix it is to chop off the bit of your body that is infected with the bug as to prevent it from reaching the still-healthy bits. Probably the only time in anyone's life when they would welcome the sight of a man approaching them with an axe.

In Andrea's case she was in the park with her children when she got bitten on her left index finger. She thought that it was just a midge or something, but the pain quickly grew. Her finger also began to swell and, by the time that the ambulance arrived & she was transported to the hospital, her finger had turned black & split open. The doctors discovered that the poison had caused the glands in her armpit to swell (part of the lymph system, and a very bad sign). By this point Andrea was very poorly. She spent 10 weeks in hospital; the doctors told her that she was probably within 2 hours of dying at admission, and they were unable to save her finger. Andrea was phlegmatic in the face of these events - losing her finger had saved her life, and she was grateful for that.

Alex Kemp