Tick Bites Have Made Thousands of Americans Allergic to Red Meat

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Lone Star Ticks can cause a red meat allergy

Tick bites can be the source of all sorts of diseases and afflictions that are a pain to deal with, but one tick, in particular, has been the cause for concern due to this strange occurrence: a red meat allergy. The Lone Star tick is a small insect that causes an alpha-gal allergy, which leads to swelling, hives and gastrointestinal distress when red meat is consumed. Just a few decades ago, the number of know cases ranged in the few dozens, but now, there have been over 5,000 cases across the country.

While it is not clear how a bite from the Lone Star tick causes this allergy, some researchers believe it could be due to the fact that these ticks feed on animals that produce alpha-gal in large quantities, which is then passed onto humans through their bite. From there, this triggers something in the human immune system that causes it to begin producing antibodies that target it. The next time a person eats red meat, these antibodies attempt to fight off the alpha-gal sugar, causing an allergic reaction.

As reported by NPR, Laura Stirling, a realtor living in Severna Park, Maryland, said she got a tick bite while walking on a trail with her dog. She felt a sharp bite on her hip, and found the tick several inches from her hip bone, but thought nothing of it and continued on her walk. Three weeks later, after eating an Italian-style pork sausage dinner, Stirling suffered an allergic reaction. She told NPR, “It was the middle of the night. I woke up covered in hives.” She recalled feeling itchy, lightheaded and was experiencing nausea and intestinal issues. A few days later, she was diagnosed with an allergy to alpha-gal, and her days of eating red meat were over.

So what is the reason behind this uptick (no pun intended) of bites from the Lone Star tick? Some scientists believe it can be attributed to climate change. A CDC report published in May states that due to shorter winters in some areas, it give ticks and other disease carrying insects more time every year to spread diseases, making them a more lethal vector.

While this sounds like a horrifying situation, Lone Star ticks are only found in southeastern and eastern parts of the United States. California can rest easy for now, but if you are planning to travel to these areas, be sure to load up on bug spray and avoid heavily wooded areas when outside. 

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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