This story was first published on January 29, 2014
Circulating message claims that a family of six died after making tea from a kettle of water that contained a violin spider. The message warns that dangerous violin spiders are invading South African homes due to good rain and hot climate.
Violin spiders are real and can deliver a nasty bite that can sometimes turn into a necrotizing wound. However, the claim that kettle water contaminated with violin spider venom killed 6 people is highly improbable and is almost certainly untrue. And, the rumour that violin spiders are invading homes in increasing numbers due to weather conditions has been circulating for several years. It is true that violin spiders may sometimes be found in houses. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the numbers of violin spiders in houses are substantially increasing as claimed. This message is overblown and highly inaccurate and sharing it will help nobody.
If you slept with water in the kettle don’t use it the next day. Please, ensure u re-rinse your kettle before using it in the morning. A family of 6 was found dead and a research was made that a deadly spider was found inside the kettle of which they drank tea from. Please, help and broadcast to all your contacts. This is serious guys, life can be taken by something so smallWarn as many people as you can.Due to the good rain and hot climate the Violin Spider is moving into houses.Please take note of this spider – it is very dangerous. Please warn kids & send to every one you know to alert them as well!This spider is breading at a rate of speed and is found in more and more South-African houses!!!!
According to a would-be warning message currently circulating in South Africa and beyond, deadly violin spiders are invading South African houses in large numbers due to recent rain and the hot climate. The message claims that a family of six people died after drinking tea made from a kettle of water in which a violin spider was lurking.
It asks that recipients share the warning with as many people as possible. Violin spiders, close cousins to America’s much-feared brown recluse, are indeed found in South Africa and they are capable of delivering a bite that can sometimes lead to necrotic arachnidism, a clinical syndrome caused by the bite of cytotoxic spiders.
However, the above warning is overblown and highly inaccurate. There are no credible reports about 6 people dying because of drinking water that had contained a violin spider. A bite from a violin spider can in some cases cause a necrotizing wound that heals very slowly and can cause ongoing health issues. In extremely rare cases, a bite can eventually lead to serious health issues and even death. However, people do not die quickly and directly from violin spider venom as suggested in the warning message. Especially since, according to the description in the warning, the venom would have been diffused within enough water to make at least six cups of tea.
Information about spider bites in South Africa’s Continuing Medical Education (CME) journal notes:
The bite may be painless, frequently occurring at night when the patient moves in bed, disturbing the spider. The patient is often not aware of being bitten, but fang marks and bleeding may be present. Redness or a red mark appears to be a consistent finding in most patients. Local swelling is not significant soon after the bite. Itchiness may be prominent. Within 12 – 24 hours the bite site becomes erythematous, oedematous, painful, and may develop mottled haemorrhagic areas or blisters. After a couple of days the lesion may resemble a furuncle or carbuncle. In most cases the process is self-limiting. In the minority of cases the local lesion may be complicated by an aggressive, spreading cellulitis and a subcutaneous suppuration. The patient may present with a nonspecific systemic illness such as fever and malaise 3 – 5 days after the bite. Necrosis at the bite site may take 3 – 7 days to develop, often with an overlying necrotic eschar. The necrotic tissue detaches after about 2 – 3 weeks, leaving an ulcer. The resultant ulcer is slow to heal, with cycles of partial healing followed by breakdown, sometimes extending over months. In a small percentage of patients, violin spider bites may present with severe, sometimes life-threatening systemic illness with haemolysis, coagulopathy, shock, renal failure, and multiple organ damage (loxoscelism). This relatively rare systemic complication, however, has not been described/documented in southern Africa.
Moreover, a tragedy in which an entire family died from drinking water containing spider venom would have been extensively covered by news media, not only in South Africa but around the world. And, of course, if exposure to violin spider venom were so deadly, then warnings about the danger would have been widely publicised by health authorities and the media. But, no such reports exist.
Thus, the claim that 6 people died in the way described is highly improbable and was most likely simply made up to add impact to the “warning”.
Nor is there any evidence to support the claim that violin spiders are invading South African homes in large numbers. The same claim – minus the part describing the unfortunate demise of the tea-drinking family – has been circulating since at least 2009.
A 2009 blog post about South African spiders notes:
There are emails doing the rounds that claim that because of the warm weather and good rains, Violin Spiders are reproducing by the thousands and entering houses. During the night these spiders creep down and feed off humans biting them in the process. The email tells us to warn all children to watch out for these spiders.
Of course it’s all a load of hogwash. Violin spiders do occur in-house but not in great numbers.
And the CME journal article explains:
The violin spiders, although relatively rare, are widely distributed in southern Africa and comprise six species, namely L. bergeri, L. parrami, L. simillima, L. pilosa, L. speluncarum and L. spinulosa. They are medium to large spiders (body length 8 – 15 mm with a leg span up to 40 mm), usually brownish to tan in colour, with a characteristic dark, violin-shaped marking on the dorsal surface of the cephalothorax (larger part of the fiddle towards the front end). The abdomen is ovoid, and the legs are long and slender. Violin spiders are never web bound. They roam freely at night in search of prey. Several species are only found in caves. Only a few are found in human habitats in small areas of South Africa. They live in cracks and crevices of walls, behind picture frames and in dark corners of cupboards and drawers.
Again, there are no credible news or health authority reports that support the long-running claims that violin spiders are increasingly making their way into South African homes in large numbers.
Violin and brown recluse spiders have featured in many terrifying and often-mythical stories and are apt to invoke fear and loathing. But, in reality, bites from violin spiders tend to be significantly over-diagnosed and are “often specifically blamed in areas where such bites are epidemiologically improbable or impossible”.
To be sure, violin spiders are potentially dangerous and South African residents would do well to learn to recognise the species and be cautious should they encounter one. But, sharing overblown, scaremongering nonsense about the spiders will help nobody.