REDBACK RAMPAGE

By PETER CATON

AN explosion in the number of highly-poisonous redback spiders scuttling around the Tweed has prompted warnings from health officials and pest exterminators.

And new housing developments as well as recent hot weather have been blamed for the outbreak.

Incredibly painful redback bites have been on the rise over the past three years in the region, and a national expert yesterday warned the bites had become common across Australia.

Though not considered fatal since an antivenene was introduced in 1956, more antivenene is now administered in Australia each year for redback bites than for all other bites and stings. This includes snakes and other spiders, including deadly funnel-webs, box jellyfish and stonefish.

Tweed residents have reported finding dozens in household guttering and roof cavities, with others hidden around garden furniture or in the backyard.

The Tweed Hospital reported 29 patients turning up with spider bite through 2005, nine of them being suspected redback attacks.

That compared to seven suspected redback bites in 2004 and four in 2003.

Murwillumbah District Hospital however reported none.

Pest controller Tony Cousins of Natraspray Cabarita Beach said the worst areas for redbacks were Cabarita, Casuarina Beach, Murwillumbah and Bruns-wick Heads, along with most new areas where the ground had recently been disturbed.

"All insects are having a good year this year," he added.

Mr Cousins said he treated all weep holes in brick work, ceiling voids, "anywhere there's an angle", particularly roller doors, for the spiders.

Professor Julian White, head of toxinology at the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, was not surprised new housing development may have led to an increase in the spider population.

"If you provide new suitable habitat, obviously there's a good chance they will occupy that habitat," Prof. White said.

He said classic areas for receiving spider bites were back verandahs, outdoor furniture and garages.

According to the Queensland Museum usually only the female redback is large enough to deliver an effective bite to a human.



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