Record-Breaking Recovery After Deadly Spider Bite?

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April 23, 2009—A 94-year-old Australian woman may be the oldest person known to survive the bite of a male Sydney funnel-web spider, one of the world's deadliest spiders. Video.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript

At 94 years-old, Mavis Tanner is the oldest-known Australian to survive a Sydney funnel-web spider bite.

The great-grandmother was bitten not once, but twice.

Fortunately, the spider was sent to the Australian Reptile Park for identification and Tanner received a course of anti-venom.

SOUNDBITE: (English) Mavis Tanner, Funnel Web Spider Bite Survivor: "They're talking about putting me in the Guinness Book of Records because I'm the eldest one they've ever known that's survived."

The spider that bit her turned out to be a male funnel-web, whose venom is more poisonous than the females. Sydney Funnel-web male spiders are one of the most venomous spiders in the world.

SOUNDBITE: (English) Dr. Naren Gunja, Deputy Director, NSW Poisons Information Centre "I think anyone who got bitten by a funnel web spider and got envenomed and survived that is pretty lucky and the older you get the harder it is to withstand an assault like that."

It is thanks to the Venom-Milking Program at the Australian Reptile Park that Tanner survived and there hasn't been a death from a funnel web spider's bite since 1982.

The staff at the Australian Reptile Park has milked hundreds of venomous spiders and snakes so scientists can create life-saving medicines.

To produce a dose of anti-venom hundreds of milkings are required.

The venom expert at the park says the funnel web spider bite causes a very severe attack on the nervous system.

SOUNDBITE :(English) Craig Adams, Former Operations Mgr., Australian Reptile Park: "One way you could describe it, it's like a neurological storm. The patient starts to twitch and involuntarily the tongue starts to twitch, and then the whole body starts to convulse. Excessive salivation, intense sweating, the blood pressure goes on a rollercoaster ride and its also very painful not just because of the length of the fangs but because of the acidic nature of the venom."

SOUNDBITE :(English) Mavis Tanner, oldest survivor: "Well I put my foot in the slipper, and felt something hard, my toe wouldn't go right into the toe of the shoe, of the slipper and I put my hand in and as I did it bit my toe and bit my finger and I pulled it out and dashed it to the floor and its legs were all curled up."

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports more than 300 people were hospitalized due to funnel-web spider bites in a recent 3-year period.

And Mavis Tanner is one of the survivors.

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