Black widow bites teen

Family hopes incident will raise awareness

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Mike Makens, a 15-year-old high school student, rests in his room at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs on Friday afternoon after suffering a bite from a black widow spider in his home.

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A dead black widow spider that bit 15-year-old Mike Makens is displayed at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs on Friday afternoon.

— Being from the South, Susie Makens didn't think much of it when she noticed a black widow spider on her porch recently. That all changed when her son Mike was bitten by one of the spiders Monday.

Now the Makens are hoping their experience will teach others in the Yampa Valley to take the threat of the spiders more seriously. Susie Makens said Mike, a 15-year-old Steamboat Springs High School student, was bitten while putting on his sock Monday. Within five minutes, she said, her son was writhing on the floor, screaming in pain as the spider's venom made its way up his body. Mike was still being treated at Yampa Valley Medical Center on Friday.

"My concern, as a parent, is I think the people here in Steamboat need to know we have a tremendous amount of black widow spiders," Susie Makens said. "If I had known how dangerous these things were four weeks ago, I would have had my house fumigated."

A groggy Mike, who was being treated for pain with morphine, said he still felt "horrible" from his hospital bed on Friday.

Mark McCaulley, the physician treating Mike, said this is the first black widow spider bite he has ever treated. In the course of researching the bite, McCaulley was told the spiders have become an increasing problem in recent months.

Dee Martinez, spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, said 13 bites were reported in Colorado in 2005. Eighteen were reported in 2006. So far in 2007, 17 bites have been reported - including 15 in the past six weeks.

Martinez said the spiders tend to live in dark, damp areas such as window wells and garages. She said most bites are usually reported between May and October.

Cold weather a factor

Ordy Ploehn, branch manager of Orkin Pest Control Services in Grand Junction, said while black widows typically prefer warmer climates, they are by no means rare to Colorado.

"They're all over the country," Ploehn said. "They're common throughout western Colorado, no doubt about it."

Ploehn said increasingly cooler weather in Steamboat Springs might help explain why the spider was in Mike's sock drawer.

"Most likely these guys were hanging out somewhere outside, and the cold weather drove them inside," Ploehn said.

McCaulley said a black widow's venom is a neurotoxin, which destroys nerves or nerve tissue, and causes a tremendous amount of pain. However, bites are very rarely fatal, he said.

McCaulley said pain can be treated with pain medication or a commercially available antivenin, which is produced by procuring antibodies from horses subjected to black widow venom.

The Makens decided to forgo the horse serum, due to potential side effects and allergic reactions known as "serum sickness," while they explore other options.

"We elected not to administer that to him," said Jim Makens, Mike's grandfather. "I hope we made the right decision."

Jim Makens, who has been researching black widows and options for treatment, said the family has received a tremendous amount of community support throughout the week. He said he was also very pleased with YVMC.

"I think the care we have been given by this doctor at this hospital has been excellent," Jim Makens said. "I must say the doctor here is excellent."

Jim Makens said he will take black widows more seriously in the future and urged others to take precautions and not provide potential homes for the spiders, such as leaving boots lying out in the garage.

"I never knew they were this dangerous," Jim Makens said. "I wouldn't mess with them in the future. Based on this experience, I don't think you should be casual about it."

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