British backpacker bitten by deadly spider feared she'd lose her leg

Backpacker bitten by deadly Brown Recluse spider in Mexico tells how she feared her leg would be amputated when bacterial infection ravaged her body after she mistook it for a BLISTER

  • British backpacker Iona McNeil feared losing her leg after venomous spider bite
  • Iona, 38, was climbing Monkey Mountain in Mexico when she was bitten
  • The explorer was left violently vomiting after mistaking bite for a blister 
  • Brown Recluse Spider – also known as the violin spider – is deadly if untreated

A British backpacker feared she was going to need her leg amputated after being bitten by one of the world’s deadliest spiders while travelling in Mexico.

Iona McNeil, 38, from Lewisham, south East London, was climbing the 330ft tall Monkey Mountain when she was bitten by the deadly Brown Recluse spider.

After being rushed to hospital the explorer was left in agonising pain after a bacterial infection took over her body, leaving her violently vomiting and shaking.

She said: ‘A nurse came in and I was completely irrational and couldn’t be settled. I screamed at her about my worst fears – amputation.

‘As I couldn’t feel pain in my foot anymore, I thought it must mean that my nerves have been destroyed by the venom through necrosis, meaning ‘death of body tissues’.’ 

The explorer initially mistook an itchy red dot on her ankle as a blister, before it was revealed it came from the venomous arachnid, also known as a violin spider because of their instrument-like body shape. 

Iona McNeil, 38, thought she was going to lose her leg after being bitten by a deadly spider

Iona, from Lewisham, south East London, first mistook an itchy red spot for a blister

Iona, who was bitten by the spider in Mexico, returned to England for treatment. The wound several days after she was bitten

As the poison took to Iona’s body her leg began to turn purple and swell up, and she  rushed to hospital for emergency treatment, fainting twice on the journey.

 ‘As soon as I got to the hospital, it was like I was finally allowed to surrender to it,” she said.

‘I sprawled out onto the waiting room chairs and my body started trembling violently.

‘I was uncontrollably shaking from head to toe because the poison was taking over me.

‘At the time I wasn’t in any panic – I just entered into the process willingly.’

It’s not Iona’s first blunder after being breaking her ribs and being mugged while on her travels

The backpacker was left violently vomiting and shaking after being bitten by a violin spider 

A bite from the venomous spider – which are usually only 2.5cm long and found across North America – can lead to death if untreated. 

Iona had first noticed a circular red spot on her left ankle on the way back from her hike in Nayarit, Mexico, in December.  

But soon she started to see two fang-style marks in her leg and knew the mark was more than a blister.  

The backpacker was hurried into a hospital bed where doctors knew instantly she’d been bitten by a poisonous spider and told her the venom was “eating her tissues” and the bacterial infection was taking over her body.

She had experienced a severe reaction to the venom and began violently vomiting, uncontrollably shaking and switching between sweating hot and freezing cold.

Iona was hooked up to a 24 hour IV, as well as fed antibiotics and painkillers to ease her aches.

Concerned doctors told her she needed more care in a bigger hospital and her the option of one nearby in Mexico or back home in England. 

Iona said goodbye to her life on the road and flew back to England, zooming to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London when she landed.

She said: ‘I didn’t want to worry about it being anything more sinister, just best to ignore it and it will all go away. I figured I’d just sleep on it.

After four days in the infectious disease ward the Londoner showed signs of improvement

Iona was left frightened after being told the venom was started to attack her nervous system

‘I woke up at 6am in the morning the next day in pain, I couldn’t walk too well on it and I felt nauseous.

‘I joked to one friend that if I died then can he make sure that people wear bright colours to my funeral.’

Iona added: ‘A specialist in insect bites was there who was knowledgeable about it.

What is a Brown Recluse spider? 

  • The Brown Recluse spider is the most common and widespread brown spider in the world.
  • The species is often found in North America, in places such from southeastern and southern states, such as central Texas to western Georgia and Kentucky. 
  • The venomous arachnid is part of the Loxosceles genus of spiders, where embers of this group have violin-shaped markings.
  • The spider gets its name from its color and its “shy nature”.
  • The brown recluse has a venomous bite, and anyone bitten should seek immediate emergency medical help, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Symptoms of a brown recluse bite may include itching, chills, fever, nausea, sweating and a general feeling of discomfort or sickness. 


‘He was curious it was a brown recluse spider as they are, the clue is in the name, reclusive – they don’t go out of their way to bite you.

‘But it made sense that, as I didn’t feel the bite, the symptoms kicked in eight hours later, including the red blister having distinctive fang marks in it.

‘It went white first and then eventually purple.

‘Luckily the venom that had attacked my nervous system was out of my body now, and what I had to contend with next was the bacterial infection – cellulitis.’

Iona was checked into the infectious diseases ward and spent Christmas alone in a hospital room.

She joked: ‘It was a bit of a crash from the highs from travelling.

‘I felt like a pin cushion, being injected with tetanus, a daily injection to prevent blood clots, a cannula for my antibiotic delivery, and daily blood samples were taken.

‘I hadn’t really moved much in the last six days and the painkillers I’d been given had made me very constipated, which added to my discomfort.

‘There was a moment around midnight on Christmas Day when suddenly what I had been through the last week just came to me all at once. How traumatic it had all been.

‘The fevers, the delirium, the plane journey, the feeling of being a burden to others, what could have happened if I hadn’t made it to hospital, the not-knowing, the still not-knowing.

‘Being alone in hospital and looking at the horror show that was my foot tipped me over my edge. I completely erupted and cried my eyes out. 

This was not her first travel blunder – Iona broke her ribs in Thailand, got mugged in Colombia and caught a hookworm from living on a deserted island in Costa Rica. 

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