Saturday, July 7, 2012
Spiders and Snakes
Australia: The land of deadly spiders and snakes... everything wants to kill you! Or does it?
Look at that huge abdomen; the telltale hourglass shaped red marking; those spindly legs - that is one evil motherfucker. Sound pretty damn dangerous?
Nope. In Australia, there are around 250 cases per year in which redback antivenom is administered. That's about a 1 in 88,000 chance that you'll be bitten badly enough to need treatment - roughly the same as the odds that you'll die at home in a fire. And that's only the cases that require antivenom - which account for 20% of bites. That's right, 80% of redback bites never escalate to the point where urgent medical care is needed, and since the antivenom was introduced in 1956, there have been no recorded deaths.
Funnel Web Spiders
Now these look like prehistoric tarantulas from tarantula hell; i'm pretty sure that thing could eat a small dog. That must be a good reason to fear the land down under, right?
Nope. Up to 30-40 people are bitten by funnel web spiders each year - which works out to odds of 1 in 550,000; about the same as your chances of dying from falling out of a building. And, the same as the redback, there is an antivenom. The last recorded death from a funnel web bite was in 1979; the antivenom was introduced in 1980.
By the way, these are the only 2 species of spider on record as having caused deaths in Australia. While none of our other spiders will win spider-beauty contests, they won't kill you either.
So what about Aussie snakes?
This guy looks pretty plain, right? Well this is an Eastern brown snake, and is responsible for about 60% of snakebite deaths in Australia. Not so ordinary now, right? So should you fear this boring looking killer next time you're in Australia?
Not really. Your chances of suffering any snakebite during a year in Australia range from 1 in 5500 to 1 in 33,300. The actual mortality rate averages 0.03 per 100,000 per year. That's 1 in 3,300,000. For perspective, riskcomm.com lists the odds of dying next year from "Falling from bed, chair or furniture" as 1 in 366,804. So it's nearly 10 times more likely that you'll die falling from your bed, than that you'll die from an Australian snakebite.
So, while Australia may have more than its fair share of poisonous spiders and snakes, we have it under control. When visiting, you'd be better served taking note of the more banal dangers, such as cars and accidental drowning (you might also want to watch out for house fires, high windows and falling out of bed). Of course, if you are one of the very unlucky few who are bitten, please do seek medical aid. But for now, as a general rule, don't stick your hands and feet where you can't see them, and you'll be right.