Even as rumours of spider-bite causing deaths in upper Assam's Tinsukia district spread to different areas of the State, a team of experts has found no evidence of any such fatality.
The experts carried out field studies in two remote villages of Sadiya, where the news of death due to spider-bite originated. They did not find any evidence of swarms of the particular species of spider invading human settlement as reported in a section of media.
Professor and Head of the Department of Life Sciences, Dibrugarh University, L.R. Saikia told The Hindu that live specimens of the spider collected from the two villages have been sent to the Indian Society of Arachnology in Maharashtra for conducting scientific studies and for confirmation of identification of the species.
“It is one type of tarantula which is not uncommon in Assam and is locally known as Bhaluki mokora in Assamese. The male spider is black and the female spider is brown,” Dr. Saikia said. The team led by Dr. Saikia also included an expert from Gauhati University.
According to reports in a section of the media, a farmer of Chawalkhowa village Purnokanta Buragohain (52) died on May 9 and a student, Rituraj Gogoi (14) of Chapakhowa village died on May 21, after being bitten by black spiders.
Dr. Saikia said that in both cases no conclusive evidence could be found that they were actually bitten by spiders as no autopsy was conducted. “The family members of the deceased could not confirm that the two were bitten by spiders. In the case of Purnakanta Buragohain, the bite appeared to be that of some animal and his death might have been caused by some kind of allergic reaction. Family members said Purnokanta was bitten by something around 7.30 p.m. on May 8. He returned to the spot with a torchlight and saw one spider. He went to a witchdoctor for treatment and was with him till around 2 p.m. Only after his condition became worse he went to the Sadiya First Referral Unit hospital, where he died on May 9.
“In the case of Rituraj, we found that he had put his hand into a hole in the paddy field when he was looking for mole cricket, a local delicacy, at 4 p.m. on May 21 and collapsed at 5 p.m. He was taken to hospital but doctors declared him brought dead. In this case also no post-mortem was done, hence nothing could be said about the cause of death conclusively. However, despite the absence of medical or circumstantial evidence, rumours were floated that both these deaths were caused by spider-bite.”
The team did not find any evidence of swarms of black spiders attacking the villagers while they were enjoying a bihu function as reported in media, he added.
Eight people with actual spider-bite were seen at the First Referral Unit in Sadiya. “The doctors at the hospital did not give them any antidote as they were not sure if the spiders were venomous. They were given some anti-allergic medicine. In fact, after we talked to them, all the eight left the hospital as they were not feeling any uneasiness then. If the black spiders had been venomous then it would have caused fatality in these eight persons too.”
When contacted, Tinsukia Deputy Commissioner S.S. Meenakshi Sundaram said pamphlets have been distributed with the help of village heads and local NGOs to appeal to the people not to panic and not to believe in rumours. He said spider specimens have also been sent to the Indian Council of Medical Research. There has been no scientific documentation in the country of any spider with enough venom to cause fatality in a large mammal like humans, he added.
Both Dr. Saikia and the DC said that the particular spider species was known to be more aggressive this time of the year as it was breeding time for them.