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That ‘spider bite’ may not be a bite after all

If you think you were bitten by a spider, you might expect that a doctor could confirm your hunch. But the Discover blog Science Sushi reports that doctors get it wrong most of the time—and few recorded “spider bites” are actually verified. To be sure that a spider is to blame for a wound, someone has to see the bite happen, and an expert has to identify the species. The difference between a venomous spider and a harmless one can be quite tiny. Now, a study has shown that 78% of spider bites recorded in the medical literature don’t live up to this standard of evidence. According to the paper, published last week in the journal Toxicon, a bite was observed in fewer than half of all recorded incidents—and even when someone watched the bite happen, fewer than half called in an expert to properly identify the spider. This kind of misdiagnosis can be dangerous, because what looks like a spider bite could be methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (commonly known as MRSA) or another serious infection. Besides, such false reporting gives spiders a—perhaps undeserved—bad rep.

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