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Halloween events leave patrons itchy
The Doctors Clinic Urgent Care in Bremerton recently saw a spike in the number of patients with red, infected bumps. Patients claimed that these infections were due to spider bites.
“It’s been crazy tonight, maybe eight or nine cases like this,” said Cindy Price, medical assistant at TDC.
The bites, according to Price start as itchy, red spots on the skin, but may grow, became hard to the touch, or become abscessed.
“People will come to urgent care because bites can go from nothing to a full-blown thing overnight,” said Linda Valentine, a nurse at TDC in Silverdale.
Symptoms have patients worried that they have been bitten by a brown recluse or hobo spider.
Brown recluse spiders inject necrotic venom into their victims. If left untreated the poison eats away at the surrounding tissue, leading to an open wound, infection, and scarring.
“Spider bites in the Northwest are usually no big deal. But if it’s recluse bite, it’s best to get to a hospital, like a flesh-eating virus, your body in [that spot] just falls apart,” said Fletcher Porter of Bremerton who has lived in the Pacific Northwest more than 25 years.
Price added that many patients coming in for treatment of spider bites believed it happened at outdoor events such as the Haunted Fairgrounds and the corn maze. Patients report red spots appearing soon after the night festivities, he said.
“You can get a recluse bite while doing lawn work. As it gets colder, they do try to seek heat, so you’ll see them in your garage or house too,” said Porter.
But Dr. Glen Carlson of Harrison Medical Center ER calls the spider theory bunk.
“We call it the ‘methasone spider.’ 99 percent of patients that come in saying they have a spider bite actually have some sort of skin infection,” said Carlson.
Dr. Carlson refers to methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), more commonly known as a staph infection. Staph is caused by highly contagious bacteria. It can be spread by skin-to-skin contact or even close living quarters where people share towels or clothing.
According to the Center for Disease Control, staph bacteria can live for several weeks on surfaces, making it especially easy to spread among athletes, college students, prisoners, or even at crowded events like concerts or festivals.
“When you see many people coming in with the same infection, you have to ask, ‘What do they have in common?’ and look at the patients’ social history,” said Carlson.
Carlson said that it is unlikely that patients who attended the Haunted Fairgrounds were bitten by brown recluses.
“Everyone says they’ve been bitten by a spider, but no one has actually seen one bite them. Brown recluses are not that common, not as common as people think,” said Carlson.
He explained that, as the name implies, recluses generally stay away from people unless directly threatened.
Carlson said that a skin bacteria spread among fair goers is a more likely culprit. Having attended the fairgrounds himself with his family, he said that he suspects high contact activities like the ‘Squeeze Room.’
The Squeeze Room, or claustrophobia room, is a popular Halloween exhibit. Patrons must push their way slowly through inflated walls which replicate the feeling of being suffocated or being trapped in quicksand.
According to Carlson, the material of the walls touches almost every exposed surface of the passing person’s body and is a good medium for spreading bacteria.
“My kids wanted to go through. I thought, hundreds of people squeezing through there every night. Oh my god, that’s a MRSA epidemic waiting to happen,” said Carlson.
However, Bruce Waterbury, recreation specialist for the Kitsap Haunted Fairgrounds, said no direct reports of skin problems have been made. Event coordinators, along with the Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue, have taken measures to ensure safety for fair goers, he said.
"Sure, we clean [the room] daily with a spray and towel it down. We've had very few problems with safety. Maybe a few people run into a wall because they're scared, but otherwise we've been fortunate," said Waterbury.
A definite cause for the recent skin infections has not been determined. However, the Kitsap County Health District suggests that people can experience skin irritations associated with fall humidity changes, colder weather, and the use of heaters.
"There are a number of factors in the fall that could make people more susceptible to irritation or infection," said Chris Craig, media relations specialist for KCPH.