It’s brown recluse spider season: Warning from Mid-South teen who took months to recover from bite

Local Health Alert

MEMPHIS, Tenn., (localmemphis.com) – Darcy Campbell was bitten by a brown recluse spider during a stay at a hotel in Georgia. It took nearly six months of treatments to help her heal from her rare infection. 

“It was still in the back of my mind if I don’t take care of it, I could lose my leg or a bigger part of my leg,” Campbell said.

Local 24 News spoke with Campbell a year ago in June of 2018 when she was still undergoing treatments to contain her infection and avoid losing her leg.

She said she had two bite marks from a brown recluse spider that lead to necrosis taking over part of her thigh. She was bitten when she was sleeping in the hotel bed. At first, she thought the bite was an ingrown hair with minor pain. However, it only took a few days until the infection grew and caused extreme pain.

Over the course of the next six months, she had 17 hyperbaric oxygen treatments, surgery, and a wound vac to help her infection heal. 

“It was keeping me from losing my leg, losing more tissue than I already had because it ate down to my fat and muscle, and to keep me from being deadly sick,” Campbell said. “I was sick the whole summer from it.” 

Campbell said she experienced nausea, light-headedness, and severe vomiting from the infection. 

“They were thinking I was going to need a skin graft,” Campbell said. “They said at one point if it got any bigger or if I was any younger or older, you could have lost your leg easily.” 

Campbell was a rising high school senior and played tennis for her school. She said the summer leading into her final season of tennis she did everything she could to heal, so she could continue playing. 

Todd Johnson is a certified entomologist with Presto-X pest control, and said summer months are the reproduction months for brown recluses.

“Their reproduction cycles are more in the summer months and warmer months so that’s why you’re going to see an increase in the summer months,” Johnson said. “March through August is peak, but in Memphis it can extend to September or October.”

He said just like their name, they like to be reclusive and undisturbed. This can be in places like piles of clothes or clutter, garages, garden sheds, basements, and boxes. 

Brown recluses have distinct features that can help people know when they have come across one. They are roughly the size of a penny and have a “violin” shape on its body.

The characteristic violin shaped mark is seen on a preserved Brown Recluse Spider displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, Wednesday, March 30, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“The most distinguishing characteristics is the shape of the violin or fiddle on its head,” Johnson said. “That’s why it gets its southern name of ‘fiddle back spider.'” 

Johnson said people can have different reactions to a brown recluse bite. If you are bitten and can catch the spider, it can be a good idea to bring it to the doctor so they can determine the type of spider. 

“Some will have a reaction to the venom,” Johnson said. “The venom actually does break down the cells of the body and that’s where you start to have a little bit of redness, maybe even a blister start to form.”

However, he said people can avoid being bitten if they take the necessary precautions. Cleaning up clutter, keeping bed sheets or clothes off the floor, and being careful when working outside are other options. 

“If you’re shaking out your clothes, wearing gloves when you’re working in sheds or your garage, then you will reduce your risk of bites,” Johnson said.

Campbell said she is hyper aware when staying hotels and always shakes out her clothes if they are on the floor. Today, she most grateful for her full recovery and good health. 

“You need to appreciate every day you have healthy,” Campbell said. 

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