The only truly dangerous spider in West Virginia is the black widow spider. While bites from most of the state's spiders can cause red, mildly painful bumps on the skin, you can usually treat these by washing the area with soap and water and applying a cold compress, if needed. Bites from the black widow require medical treatment and can be quite painful and uncomfortable. These bites are rarely lethal, because most victims seek medical attention, but they can be deadly if left untreated.
Identifying Black Widows
Black widow spiders (Latrodectus mactans) live throughout West Virginia. The males are considered harmless, as are immature females. The bite of an adult female is toxic. Usually about 1/2 inch long, not including their legs, adult females are black, shiny and easily identified by the red hourglass shape on their abdomens. A well-fed female black widow sometimes appears slightly brown because her abdomen has stretched to accommodate food that's digesting. Be aware that not all black widows have a perfect hourglass shape on their abdomens -- some may have a red dot or two red triangles that don't quite meet.
Where You'll Find Them
Black widow spiders sometimes find their way indoors but prefer to live outside. In your garden, you'll find them hiding in holes in walls, under rocks and in small crevices and spaces. These spiders are shy and prefer to avoid human contact, but they do like clutter. Make sure your garden shed or garage is kept as neat as possible and free of stacked boxes, piles of paper, woodpiles and other potential hiding places. A great way to avoid these spiders is to be sure you never stick your hand anywhere that you can't see. Wear gloves when gardening to protect your hands.
Black widow bites feel like a pin prick if you feel them, but you may feel nothing at the time. More often, swelling, redness and a burning sensation at the site of the bite are the first clues something is amiss, and pain usually begins one to three hours after the bite. More severe symptoms include tight or rigid abdominal muscles, stomach cramping, nausea, fever, agitation and localized paralysis. You may also have speech problems, tremors and insomnia.
If you or someone else is bitten, apply hydrogen peroxide or iodine to the bite and place an ice pack on the area to relieve pain. Bites on arms and legs should be elevated when possible. Do not cut the skin over the bite or attempt to suck out the venom as you would a snake bite. Once you have cleaned and iced the bite, seek medical treatment immediately. The sooner you get treated, the less severe the effects of the venom will be and the less time it will take to recover.