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Tarantula Owners, Mind Your Eyes

Spider's hairy defense mechanism led to corneal injury in man, report says

THURSDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Attention tarantula owners: Keep your face away from your eight-legged friend, and don't forget to wear eye protection.

That's the message from a new report about a man who appeared at a British hospital in February 2009 with tarantula hairs embedded in his cornea.

The 29-year-old man arrived at St. James University Hospital in Leeds, U.K., complaining that his eye had been bothering him for three weeks, describing it as red, watery and light sensitive.

According to the report published Dec. 31 in The Lancet, when drug treatment for the eye disease conjunctivitis failed to make him better, magnification of his eye showed spider hairs in his cornea. The patient then remembered that his Chilean Rose tarantula had released a "mist of hairs" into his eyes and face as he cleaned his pet's glass tank.

Doctors couldn't remove the hairs because they were too small, and instead had to give the man topical steroids, which dampened the immune system, to help reduce his symptoms. As of August 2009, the patient stated that he was better but still had some discomfort and occasional "floaters" in his vision.

"The Chilean Rose tarantula has urticating [stinging] hairs over the posterior aspect of its body. As a defense mechanism against potential predators, the tarantula will rub its hind legs against its abdomen to dislodge these hairs into the air. Multiple barbs allow the hairs to migrate through ocular tissue as well as other surfaces. The inflammatory reaction observed is termed ophthalmia nodosa; a broad diagnosis covering the response of the eye to insect or vegetable material," according to the report.

The authors suggest that "tarantula keepers be advised to routinely wear eye protection when handling these animals."

More information

The San Diego Zoo has quick facts about tarantulas.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, Dec. 31, 2009

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