The Oklahoma Economic Development Association's Area Agency on Aging wants all area citizens, but seniors in particular, to be on the lookout for black widow spiders.
Leona M. Perry, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging, said this is because the Oklahoma Poison Control Center (OPCC) recently reported a black widow spider outbreak in the state.
The Area Agency on Aging is especially concerned because the spider's venom could be fatal for an older person with a weakened immune system, Perry said.
"But we want everyone to be aware of them," she said.
Scott Schaeffer, executive director of the Oklahoma Poison Control Center, agreed that everyone, regardless of age, needs to be aware of the spiders and the risks they could pose.
He said the very old as well as the very young are at special risks of suffering acute illness from the spider's bite.
"I have not heard of any reports of bites from our clients," Perry said. "We are just trying to get the word out, so the public can possibly contact an exterminator, or avoid the spider's web."
OPCC said an outbreak of the spider has been declared because as of Aug. 15, there had been 54 calls to the center's hotline so far this year. That is an approximate 60 percent in number of calls from the same period in 2011, when there were only 33 calls, which is about the average, according to poison control center officials.
It is believed the current increase in black widow sightings is due to the persistent drought, combined with the past mild winter, which has helped create ideal breeding conditions.
IDENTIFYING THE SPIDER AND IT'S WEB
Schaeffer said the best way to avoid being bitten by a black widow is to not disturb them.
Which is why it is important to know what the spiders and their webs look like.
The female spider's poison is much more dangerous than the male's, whose bite may cause only minor discomfort, Schaeffer said. The female black spider can be identified by the red hourglass figure contrasted on her shiny black, round abdomen, he said.
"Her web is very irregular; it's not usually in a perfect circle," he said, noting the web can resemble a pile of crushed silk.
Perry noted that the black widow's "tangled, crisscross web" has also been described as "look(ing) like a cotton ball that has been pulled apart."
"One of the best places to find a web is in a wall's corner," Schaeffer said, noting they can often be found in garages and sheds.
When in or around these areas it is important to keep an eye out for spiders, he said.
"Please take precautions," Perry added. "Wear gloves, and pay attention to where you are working or playing."