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Tarantula Owners: Beware of Microscopic Hairs

Tarantula Owners: Beware of Microscopic Hairs

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Ed Yeates ReportingIf you're one of many exotic pet owners now taking care of a tarantula, there’s a warning for you tonight from Utah eye doctors. Microscopic hairs from the spiders can cause serious eye damage.

This is one those bizarre conditions you might expect to see only in rare writings from a medical journal. But Moran eye physicians say look again.

18-year-old Dan Swain takes good care of his exotic pets. The terrariums in his room are exceptionally clean. He knows the species well. But what he didn't know or see is what his tarantula innocently sheds from the underside of its body.

Dan Swain: "It was pretty much instantly. I put him down and itched my eye - then there was a real burning sensation in the lower area down here."

Tarantulas apparently discard microscopic hairs. Dan picked them up on his hands - then rubbed his face. The hairs, less than a millimeter in size, penetrated his left eye like spears.

Majid Moshirfar, M.D., Ophthalmologist, Moran Eye Center: "We have seen three or four patients who have developed severe inflammatory reactions - that means these hairs penetrate the cornea, through the colored part, through the lens - all the way back to the eye."

Doctors evaluated photographs of Dan's eye, identifying some but not all of the hairs.

Majid Moshirfar, M.D., Ophthalmologist: "Sometimes these hairs are so small that under the microscope, we cannot even remove them from the patient's cornea."

Dan now washes his hands after handling the tarantula. He doesn't even gently blow on it anymore. Dr. Majid Moshirfar says a pet owner should not let the spiders crawl on their face or head. Dan's vision is still blurry but doctors hope by controlling the inflammation, the body might eventually absorb those hairs they can't remove.

Kim Swain, Dan's Mother: "Dan loves his spiders and we're not encouraging him to get rid of 'em. But you do need to take precautions. You need to be careful."

Dr. Moshirfar says researchers are actually looking at the microscopic structure of tarantula hairs - hoping they might be able to duplicate the structure so they can inject chemotherapy medications directly into cancer tumors.

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