White-tail scare in neonatal unit

Creepy-crawly visitors in Palmerston North Hospital's neonatal unit have forced the MidCentral District Health Board to call in pest control.

Unconfirmed white-tailed spider sightings have occurred six times in the past year in the unit, which is tasked with intensive and special care for pre-term and unwell babies.

According to the Ministry of Health, most white-tailed spider bites are harmless but occasionally there may be a severe reaction. It may result in a deep ulcer or wide area of skin necrosis, where the area of skin and flesh around the wound dies.

MidCentral spokesman Jason Keall said: "In the last 12 months there have been approximately six occasions where a potential white-tailed spider has been identified. This level of incidence does not constitute an infestation, however localised spraying has occurred in response to these reported sightings.

"[This] last took place three to six months ago and will be repeated as and when required."

Mr Keall said given the low numbers there had been no formal communication to patients or visitors.

"Periodically they have been reported in other parts of the hospital," he said. There have been no reports of bites on hospital premises in the past year.

Landcare Research research technician Grace Hall said there were myths around white-tailed spiders.

"Ninety per cent of people who get bites have no problems whatsoever," she said. "And a lot of people who report bites, it's not normally a white-tailed spider, it's often something else like a mosquito bite."

Mrs Hall said white-tailed spiders would not likely be a danger to a baby, and they would probably be found before anything happened.

Manawatu Standard