Anderson Co. commissioner hospitalized after spider bite

10:41 PM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
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Like most East Tennesseans, Chuck Fritts didn't worry too much about the bug bite on his foot. The Anderson County Commission Chairman simply thought it was the result of a pesty mosquito, and would soon disappear.

"You get bugs and bites all the time. Put some cream and ointment and things like that on it and, you don't want to bother nobody by it," he said.

However, when the bite continued to swell to the point he couldn't fit his foot in his shoe and it started turning strange colors, he finally told his wife.

"Well, I was starting to question it," he laughed. "So she said, 'You're going to the doctor no matter what!'"

Doctors diagnosed the injury as a brown recluse spider bite. He believes he likely got the bite from blindly sticking his foot into a pair of work boots he keeps outside his home.

"I never think of it, done it for years and I know a lot of people do it," he said. "I keep a pair of work shoes outside, I keep my gloves outside, and you just go out there and you put them in."

After medication didn't work, doctors admitted Fritts to an area hospital for several days. Eventually, he had surgery to remove the dead cells.

"They told me, since I responded like I did and didn't wait too much longer, that I was an extremely lucky man to get it [taken] care of when I did," he explained. "They said -- worst case scenario -- I could have lost my foot."

UT Urban Entomology Dr. Karen Vail studies a number of different kinds of bugs, including the brown recluse spider. She said you can spot one by its light brown color, violin shaped marking, and three pairs of eyes.

Despite their bite, Vail said brown recluses are not aggressive.

"Sometimes you'll even see them feigning death. They'll curl up in a ball," she said. "It's more of a defensive behavior, [if] they're being crushed against your clothing, or you're rolling over on them in bed."

Vail said the spiders like dark, dry spaces like closets, attics, and undisturbed furniture. She cautioned anyone preparing for spring cleaning season.

"Look before you touch! Always look ahead," she said. "You're going through a drawer, just don't reach your hand in there blindly. You may want to look first before you stick your hand in."

According to the UT Extension website, the brown recluse spider is found in almost every county in Tennessee but are more common in the western part of the state.

Most people who are bitten by one of the spiders will not have a severe reaction and the bite often heals on its own. Experts say it's important to save the spider in a plastic bag or jar, so doctors can positively identify it.

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