3:58pm UK, Friday January 01, 2010
Lulu Sinclair, Sky News Online
Tarantula lovers are being warned to avoid getting up close and personal with their pet - or else do it from the other side of an aquarium pane.
That is a lesson that a 29-year-old man from Leeds in Britain learned the hard way, according to the medical journal, The Lancet.
In February of last year, the man turned up at St James's University Hospital in Leeds after three weeks of stinging pain in one eye, which had become red, watery and light-sensitive.
Doctors prescribed antibiotics, assuming he was afflicted with a particularly stubborn case of conjunctivitis, but the treatment did not help the symptoms.
When they re-examined the patient with high-magnification lenses, doctors spotted ultra-thin, hair-like projections sticking into the cornea.
They were so small that even microforceps could not remove them.
That is when the man recalled a close encounter with his pet spider shortly before his eye first became irritated.
While cleaning a stubborn stain on the glass tank that was home to his Chilean Rose tarantula, he turned his head to find the fist-sized arachnid very near by.
The spider released a "mist of hairs" which hit his eye and face, according the journal.
Treatment with topical steroids largely cleared his symptoms, but as late as August he continued to complain of mild discomfort.
"As a defence mechanism against potential predators, the tarantula will rub its hind legs against its abdomen to dislodge special hairs from the back of its body," the study explained.
"Multiple barbs allow the hairs to migrate through ocular tissue as well as other surfaces."
Moral of the story? "We suggest that tarantula keepers be advised to wear eye protection routinely when handling these animals," it concluded.