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Can a Tick Bite Really Make You Allergic to Red Meat?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes…yes it can. An article published in National Geographic this month explains how this can happen.

Red Meat Becomes an Enemy

A sugar molecule in meat called Alpha-Gal can be transferred to the Lone Star tick when taking a blood meal from a cow or another mammal. Then that same sugar molecule is transferred to you if it bites you. Cosby Stone, an allergy and immunology fellow at Vanderbilt, tells us that this is where your body’s reaction to red meat can begin to change. The introduction of the Alpha-Gal by the tick can cause you to create antibodies to it and suddenly your body is going to send messages to fight this sugar molecule that is present in most red meats. An allergy is born.

Unlike other food allergies, the reaction will be slower than most food allergy reactions. The Alpha-Gal must be released from the meat through your digestive tract so it may be hours before vomiting, diarrhea, hives, or shortness of breath sets in, making the initial cause hard to uncover. Sometimes it takes several reactions to a meat allergy to realize that is exactly what is going on. There is no cure, only treatment for the symptoms, which can be severe.

Red Meat Allergy Tick Bites are Spreading

USA Today reports that more and more red meat allergies from tick bites are being seen across parts of the country. Scott Commins, an associate professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology, allergy, and immunology at the Thurston Research Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, told USA Today that UNC has had 537 patients and he is also aware of hundreds of other cases of this odd meat allergy from Georgia up to New York in the past 10 years. The sudden onset seemed quite strange but they were eventually able to find the one common factor: Lone Star ticks.

An allergist in New York, Purvi Parikh, says warmer climates has caused an increase in the number of cases along with an increase in the territory in which it is beginning to occur due to the spread of the Lone Star tick. The first cases were found in the southeast, but Parikh states, “It’s not just in the South now. I am in New York, and we are seeing more incidents.” We have to recognize this will affect us in Massachusetts as well. Ticks (and the illnesses they can spread) we are not used to seeing here are becoming more prevalent.

Tick Bite Prevention

There are many things yet to be known about this strange reaction to the Lone Star tick bite. It appears to fade over time, but the reaction has also been said to become more severe with recurring tick bites. There is certainly more to learn as we realize that tick bites could make permanent changes to our immune system. Until then Mosquito Squad of Southeastern Massachusetts reminds you to take caution when in areas where ticks are prevalent. Use your repellents and dress appropriately when in wooded areas, even more so if traveling to the southeast where Lone Star ticks are more common. Here on the homefront let’s be diligent in fighting tick-borne illness as well. Call us today to discuss how we can help rid your yard of 85-90% of existing ticks with our barrier treatment and prevent the growth of future ticks with our tick tubing systems.

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