Alert: Bug That Can Give People Lifelong Allergy to Meat Is on the Move


Summer is finally here, but warmer weather also means that there could be hidden menaces waiting for you outside.

Most people who spend time outdoors already know about the potential dangers from ticks, such as Lyme disease, which is known to be carried by the parasite. But experts are now warning about another worrying disease which can be transmitted by ticks, and it seems to be spreading.

On Thursday, CTV News reported that the Lone Star tick may be expanding its range to more northern areas of North America. Nobody wants to be bitten by a tick, but this species is particularly troublesome because it can spread a serious allergy which makes people ill from eating meat.

“A veterinary clinic in southern Ontario is sounding the alarm after discovering a rare tick known to cause a meat allergy in humans,” the Canadian news outlet said. A post from the Oakridge Animal Clinic confirms that a cat was found with a Lone Star tick that is believed to have come from north of the border.

That’s a big deal, since the tick was believed to be fairly isolated to warmer climates.

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Lone Star Tick
Dorsal view of a female lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), 2006. Image courtesy Centers for Disease Control / Dr Amanda Loftis, Dr William Nicholson, Dr Will Reeves, Dr Chris Paddock. (Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images)

“Lone Star ticks are native to the southeastern United States and Mexico, but have been found further north in recent years,” CTV explained. “They are occasionally found in Canada and are believed to arrive on the backs of migrating birds.”

If the pesky arachnid is now in Canada, it has almost certainly become more common in northern areas of the United States, as well. It has already been confirmed in New Hampshirem, Minnesota and Wisconsin, much further north than before.

In other words, Americans who didn’t worry about Lone Star tick bites before may need to become extra vigilant — or there could be serious health effects.

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“It’s a very scary tick,” said Dr. Gillian Egli, the veterinarian who runs the Oakridge Animal Clinic “It carries diseases that can be transmitted to dogs, but also to humans.”

One of those diseases isn’t entirely understood, but is widely believed by scientists to cause a serious allergy to meat. In basic terms, your body loses the ability to process common meat products and goes into shock. So much for that double bacon burger.

“The mechanism of how the tick bite causes the allergy isn’t yet clear, but the researchers say the bite causes humans to become allergic to a carbohydrate known as alpha-gal,” CTV reported. “Any subsequent exposure to the carb, which is found only in meat, can spur allergic reactions such as hives, vomiting, and diarrhea.”

“Some have more severe reactions, including anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that requires immediate treatment. Meat from any kind of mammal — beef, lamb, pork — can cause the symptoms, while consuming poultry and fish does not seem to have the same effect,” the outlet continued.

And here’s the really scary part: There is no known cure, which means that contracting the disease from a Lone Star tick could mean never enjoying meat again.

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So if there’s no cure, what’s the solution? According to the Centers for Disease Control, taking a few basic precautions when outdoors can help keep ticks at bay, and dramatically lower the chances of contracting a tick-borne illness.

“Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals. Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks,” the CDC said. “Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. Walk in the center of trails.”

Insect repellents and permethrin are also useful. Experts encourage people to check themselves, their clothing, and their pets for ticks after spending time outside. “Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, including your own backyard,” the CDC advised.

America is blessed with endless outdoor recreation opportunities and beautiful natural areas. Ticks shouldn’t keep us from putting on our hiking shoes and enjoying nature, but being alert and careful can mean that this summer stays fun for everybody.

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Benjamin Arie is an independent journalist and writer. He has personally covered everything ranging from local crime to the U.S. president as a reporter in Michigan before focusing on national politics. Ben frequently travels to Latin America and has spent years living in Mexico.