Danger in Your Produce Bag? Black Widow Spider Hiding in Grapes Bites Vermont Woman


(Photo: Getty Images)

Earlier this week, a Vermont woman plucked a scary surprise out of her recently-purchased bag of grapes: a black widow spider.

According to NBC Connecticut, the insect crawled up the 21-year-old’s arm and bit her. She was taken to the hospital and received treatment overnight. Now, she’ll continue to be monitored in the following months as her symptoms should start to improve.

How common are bugs in produce bags? You shouldn’t be shocked to find a creepy-crawly creature, says emergency-medicine physician Darria Long Gillespie, MD, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine. But you also shouldn’t worry.

“The majority of bugs that you’re going to encounter, in produce bags or otherwise, aren’t going to cause harm unless they are carrying disease — like a mosquito carrying West Nile Virus,”Gillespie tells Yahoo Health. “Commonly, you’ll see mosquitoes, flies and roaches, but a black widow is dangerous.”

Related: 11 Spring Fruits and Veggies to Boost Your Metabolism 

Black widows are poisonous spiders with quite the reputation, reportedly carrying venom 15 times stronger than that of a rattlesnake. They’re also distinctive in appearance: 1.5 inches long and about a quarter-inch thick with “a violin-shaped body with a red cross” speckling on the body, says Gillespie.

Most frequently found in warmer regions like the South and West, you can find black widows anywhere in the U.S. If you’re bitten by a black widow, or suspect you have been, Gillespie says you need to seek emergency-medical care immediately.

“Try to capture the spider and put it in a jar if possible,”she explains. “It’s very distinctive in appearance, so doctors will know. Symptoms most commonly include severe abdominal pain and body cramps.”

Generally, the black-widow bite feels like a pinprick at first. Over the course of 15 minutes, dull pain will likely spread from the bite area to the rest of the body. The aching is usually concentrated on the stomach or the chest, depending on whether the bite occurred in the bottom half or the top half of the body. Anxiety, difficulty breathing, headache, nausea and numbness can also follow.

Related: 5 Fruits That Are Food-Borne Illness Risks 

In the emergency department, docs will put a black-widow bite victim on IV medications to dial back the venom’s effects. The worst of the symptoms and pain tend to disappear after two or three days, with milder issues lingering for a few weeks after. It’s extremely rare for a healthy person to die of a black widow bite. The groups most at risk, however, are young children, the elderly and the sick.

When in doubt? If you’ve been bit by a bug and you’re experiencing disconcerting symptoms, head to the ER. And as for your groceries? “The lesson here is pretty simple: don’t eat produce straight from a bag,”Gillespie says. “Remove first to wash, not just for bugs, but for pesticides.”

No need to skip fruits and veggies. Dump the contents of your bag into a strainer, rinse, and then nosh to protect yourself.

Let’s keep in touch! Follow Yahoo Health on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Have a personal health story to share? We want to hear it. Tell us at YHTrueStories@yahoo.com.