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Medical toxicologists at Vanderbilt University want people to know more about how to treat brown recluse spider bites.

Doctors are seeing an increase in patients seeking treatment, including some who tried at-home remedies that did more harm than good.

The venomous bites usually heal well if left alone, said Dr. Donna Seger, medical director of the Tennessee Poison Center. However, she warned that people can react differently to the bites. A lesion accompanied by a fever, rash and muscle pain can be life-threatening, especially in children, she said.

The bites can cause hemolysis, a breakdown in red blood cells.

"Our recommendations are that all children under 12 with a brown recluse spider bite should have a urine test for the presence of hemoglobin in blood which indicates hemolysis," Seger said.

But adults who are bitten without suffering a rash, fever or muscle pain do not need the urine test, she advised.

Ointments don't usually help, she said.

"As physicians, it is hard for us to do nothing," Seger said. "The lesion has classic characteristics, but if physicians are not familiar with this bite, the tendency is to debride and cut out the lesion. This actually slows the healing process and can result in disfigurement that would not occur if the lesion were left alone."

She said ice works better than drugs to treat the pain from a bite.

In homes, the spider can be found in darkened storage areas, such as closets, garages, basements, attics and cupboards. People can avoid the potential for bites by moving beds away from curtains or walls, according to a fact sheet on the spider from the University of Tennessee Extension Service. Another good idea is to shake clothing or shoes before putting them on.

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