Urgent call for public to assist in funnel web spider antivenom program!

Since 1981 the anti-venom program at the Australian Reptile Park has been collecting the venom of funnel web spiders, which is sent annually to CSL Bio, a biopharmaceutical company which creates anti-venom for critical hospital vaccines.

Each year the aim to is to collect 300 male funnel webs to provide 3000 milkings, but in the last few years that number has been declining, with the park only able to milk around 200 funnel webs last year.

But the key to the program’s success is the collection of the spiders, largely assisted by people capturing the spiders and delivering them to drop off zones around NSW.

We should first stress there is no shortage of anti-venom on hospital shelves at the moment,” said Mike Drinkwater, operations manager at the Australian Reptile Park.

“However we haven’t been receiving as many spiders as we need to milk for that venom to be turned to life saving anti-venom. We’re trying to mitigate against any future shortage.”

Before the program began deaths by funnel web spider bites were much more common, however since its introduction there have been no deaths in NSW.

The venom of a funnel web spider has a severe impact on the respiratory system. It attacks the muscles of the heart, which cause a spike in blood pressure, making the muscle spasm. It also can cause extreme salivation and tingly lips.

In the 12 months to August 31 this year NSW Ambulance paramedics attended 65 incidents of patients with suspected funnel web spider bites.

NSW Ambulance Inspector John Brotherhood asked people to take care as the weather warms.

“We’re basically urging caution. Around the home, remove piled up debris from the yard and keep lawns mowed to reduce the potential for unexpected visitors,” Inspector Brotherhood said.

While the Australian Reptile Park will accept any spider brought in by the public, they aim to collect mainly males because their venom is six times more toxic than females.

“So by extracting the same amount of venom from either male or female you get much more use from males, they are critical to the program,” said Mr Drinkwater.

To collect the spiders, adults should be equipped with a “spider safety kit,” including a glass jar with air holes in the lid and a plastic ruler to guide the spider into the jar. Click here to see video on how to do so in a safe manner.

The Australian Reptile Park stresses that capturing the spiders should be left to adults.

Drop off zones for the program can be found in Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle where the spiders can be housed until they are picked up.

In Sydney spiders can be dropped off at Westmead Hospital, Sutherland Hospital, Hornsby Hospital, Brookvale Greencross Vets, Mona Vale Veterinary Hospital and Hawkesbury City Council. Click here for a list of drop off points.

Story by Lucy Cormack for The Sydney Morning Herald.


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