GAUHATI, India – Large biting spiders have sparked panic in remote northeast India, but health authorities fear primitive treatment of the bites' painful swelling may be more dangerous than the spiders themselves.
Two people died in Tinsukia district after witch doctors used razor blades to drain the wounds. It's not known if the victims died from spider poison or from the attempted treatment. Local magistrate Kishore Thakuria said the victims were cremated before autopsies could be done.
Another seven bite victims have been treated with antibiotics against infection after they also tried themselves to drain their wounds, said Dr. Anil Phapowali at the local Sadiya town hospital.
The hairy spiders were noticed about a month ago across Tinsukia district's grassy plains and dense jungle forests north of the Brahmaputra River.
Ecologist L.R. Saikia at Assam's Dibrugarh University said it may be a previously unknown species of tarantula. The spiders are roughly the size of a person's thumb.
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"It looks like a new species. We haven't been able to identify it," he said Tuesday. Officials cannot use anti-venom in treating bite victims until the species is identified.
Meanwhile, villagers are keeping lamps on at night and standing guard against spiders entering their mud-and-thatch huts. There are about 100,000 villagers, mostly poor rice farmers, living in the area cut off from roads by the river.
Officials say the spiders are now also showing up south of the Brahmaputra.