Two Albanians die from black widow spider bites

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 03 August 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:278
  1. Rudina Hoxha
  1. Tirana

    At least two people have died from spider bites in Albania, as health officials investigate claims that one of the more venomous species of black widow spider has gained a foothold in southern Europe.

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    One of the more venomous species of the black widow spider is apparently now in southern Europe


    Several species of black widow, including Latrodectus tredecimguttatus, are already found around the Mediterranean, but Albanian officials believe that rising temperatures have created the perfect conditions for one of the other widow species.

    The Albanian media claim that four people have died in the north of the country after black widow bites, although health officials have so far confirmed that only two of the alleged deaths were from black widow bites.

    The news has led to hundreds of people visiting emergency wards to have insect bites checked.

    Several hundred doses of antidote for the spider bites have been sent from nearby Croatia, including 100 that will be used to treat the symptoms of people suspected of having been bitten by the spider.

    The antidote was ordered after the head of the Albanian ministry of health's clinic of toxicology, Zihni Sulaj, alerted health minister Maksim Cikuli.

    Dr Sulaj said, “Every effort is being made to get the antidote out to all the main hospitals, considering the many cases which have been reported lately.

    “We have confirmed that 17 patients have been attacked by the black widow spider, and, of these, two have lost their lives, including a 17 year old boy from the village of Bardhaj in Shkodra and a 27 year old woman from Berat. Both the confirmed deaths were within the same week, and both were otherwise healthy.”

    Dr Sulaj added, “These deaths have caused a considerable amount of concern as there has not been a single death attributed to spider bites for many years, and then we have two in less than a week.”

    The first recorded spider bites to have caused health problems needing hospital treatment in Albania were reported in 1999. Since then Albanian toxicologists have recorded 136 cases of spider bites reported to officials, of which 98 needed hospital treatment. None resulted in death.

    Between 1999 and 2003, all the cases were in an area including Kavaja, Durres, and Myzeqe, near the country's Adriatic coast. Subsequent cases have been more widely spread from north to south. The worst year was 2001, when 70 cases were reported.

    Speaking of the country's first recorded deaths from spider bites, Dr Sulaj said, “The main worry is our belief they have been bitten by a black widow spider imported from abroad. It is well documented that… species are able to relocate, and we believe that the bites are from a species new to Albania that has come in from a ship.

    “At this stage it is very important to raise public awareness about this situation as well as to establish a network of information and registration in order to better forecast the toxicological situation of the country in the future.”

    A spokesman at the Albanian Veterinary Research Institute in Tirana said, “There is no doubt the opening up of trade routes has resulted in the import of unwanted insects.

    “Before 1996 Albania's international trade was limited due to the restrictive regime but since then the country has opened up to imports from all over the world.”

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