Doctors have told 13-year-old Amelia Nielsen she may be scarred for life after she was bitten by a suspected false widow spider during the night.
In a scene straight out of most people’s nightmares, the unlucky teenager, of Queensbury, Bradford, woke one morning to find two sinister-looking puncture marks on her cheek.
Within days, the bite had swollen to the size of a golf ball and she was admitted to Bradford Royal Infirmary (BRI) after developing cellulitis - a potentially life-threatening infection of the deeper layers of the skin.
Following treatment with intravenous antibiotics, Amelia is now back home recovering but medics have warned her it will be another 12 months before the scale of scarring becomes clear.
Her mother Adele Nielson said she fears it was a false widow spider and has now warned other parents to be aware of the potentially dangerous pests. She said: “It’s just frightening to think it could happen to a small child or baby, or parent, who doesn’t know what’s going on - because it can be very serious. I did all the right things with her and this still happened. Cellulitis can kill you ultimately. I know that’s extreme but if someone doesn’t know what’s going on or how to treat it, it can be extremely dangerous.
“They said she will have some scarring but we won’t know for another 12 months how bad that’s going to be. It’s her face - for a girl of 13 that’s quite scary.”
She said Amelia had been unaware she had been bitten until she woke up to pain in her cheek.
Mrs Nielsen said: “I think she probably felt something in the night and either moved or tried to brush it away and that’s why it had bitten her. She got out of bed in the morning and was scratching her face and said it really hurts. You could see it was swollen and could see two puncture marks where she’d been bitten. It was obvious it was a spider. I can only assume it was a false widow. Apparently normal spiders don’t do that.
“In her bedroom, as soon as we realised what happened we have put in a little device in that emits a signal to make spiders and other pests not want to go near.”
False widows are not native to Britain but are believed to have first arrived in 1879 in a crate of fruit from the Canary Islands.
Chris Hassall, a biologist at the University of Leeds who specialises in insects, said they are one of only a few spider species in this country with fangs large enough to pierce human skin and the Nielsens have been very unlucky if it was a false widow spider.
“False widows are not very common this far up north - it’s unusual to find them in your house. The nasty reaction is also rare - most bites are no worse than a bee or wasp sting - but some people have particular sensitivities.”
Mr Hassall said, while the two-wound puncture mark is characteristic of a spider bite, false widows tend not to move far from their webs and rarely come indoors. He added: “Without having caught the spider in the act it is impossible to say what the culprit was.”