Weather Forecast


Suspected spider bite sends boy to hospital

When Peter Parker was bitten by a spider, he gained super-human Spiderman powers.

All Austin Preece of New Richmond got was a pain in the butt.

Preece, 9, was playing underneath a trampoline at his cousin's house north of the New Richmond Regional Airport July 28 when he apparently was bitten in the behind by an angry spider.

He didn't feel any pain until he sat down a few minutes later.

"It stung," he recalled.

He quietly slipped off to the bathroom to inspect the bite, noticing a small brown spot had developed.

When Austin returned home that evening, he checked the area again and found the wound had grown to the size of a half-dollar. That's when he showed his parents, Tracy and Mike Preece, the painful spot.

The wound was circled by a red rim, and the dying, brown skin was moist to the touch.

"You could see the healthy skin pulling away from the wound," Tracy said. "I had all kinds of terrible thoughts."

As a precaution, the Preeces drove their son to the Westfields Hospital Emergency Room. Doctors and nurses there were stumped.

"They had a number of theories that they didn't want to share with us," Tracy said, "because they were scary."

The local medical facility sent the Preeces to Children's Hospital in the Twin Cities.

More than 18 doctors and nurses all were baffled by the wound.

Austin was checked into the hospital, where he remained under care until Sunday afternoon. He was sent home with a seven-day supply of antibiotics and a story to tell his friends.

Through the power of the Internet, Tracy Preece said the family did a little health investigation of their own.

They're convinced that Austin was bitten by a brown recluse spider, a creature whose venom eats away at human flesh.

Tracy admits expert reports indicate that brown recluse spiders are predominantly found in the southern states. Only two such spiders have ever been found in Wisconsin, and only one in Minnesota.

"I hear about this all the time," said Phil Pellitteri, entomologist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "I can only confirm it if I have the spider in hand."

He said 50 percent of diagnosed brown recluse bites are in states where the spider doesn't reside.

Most often, reported brown recluse spider bites in Wisconsin turn out to be a secondary bacterial infection or the bite of a different spider, Pellitteri said.

Even in areas where large populations of brown recluses reside, bites are extremely rare, experts report. The spiders typically only bite if cornered or sat upon.

"It's often misdiagnosed and tough to know what it is if you don't have the spider," Tracy said. "They (brown recluse) travel well, so it's not unheard of to have them here."

The way Austin's body reacted to the bite is consistent with a brown recluse, Tracy points out.

"I'm thinking this was a pretty mild bite, because if you look at the Internet there are some pretty scary pictures," Tracy said.

In some cases, brown recluse bites can be life threatening. The only long-lasting reminder of Austin's bite will likely be a small divot in his skin, where the flesh was eaten away, doctors say.

"They said we might want to consider plastic surgery, but we'll see," Tracy said.

Since Austin's stay in the hospital, Tracy said she's heard about two recent, unconfirmed brown recluse bite cases in the River Falls area.

Her only suggestion is that, if someone suspects they've been bitten by a spider, seek immediate medical attention.

"Austin was feeling good through the whole thing," Tracy said. "Happy go lucky and no fever. My saving grace was he was fine the whole time."

Austin does admit he's already tired of the Spiderboy jokes.