Aftereffects of a bite from a Lone Star tick, which now ranges across more than a quarter of the United States, can include an allergy to red meat that lingers long after the tick bite has been forgotten.
“Whatever the tick is doing, it seems that it’s a very potent awakener for our immune system to produce antibodies. And in this case, it’s antibodies to this very particular sugar in red meat,” said Dr. Scott Commins, an allergist and associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, according to NPR.
Laura Stirling, 51, of Severna Park, Maryland, knows that very well. After walking on a trail with her dog, she found a tick near her hip.
“I just took it off and threw it away,” she said. Three weeks later, she had a terrible reaction to an Italian-style pork sausage.
“It was the middle of the night. I woke up covered in hives,” she said.
She was given a blood test for an alfa-gal meat allergy. Alpha-gal is a sugar found in red meat. It came back positive, and she was told to avoid red meat and dairy products.
“I thought it was completely crazy because I’ve eaten dairy and red meat all my life,” she said.
Commins said the tick-caused allergy is on the rise.
“We’re confident the number is over 5,000 (cases), and that’s in the U.S. alone,” he said, noting cases have been reported in Sweden, Germany and Australia as well.
A new study confirms that, according to Reuters.
A Tennessee study reported in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology showed that allergic reactions to meat due to tick bites are increasing.
“I don’t want this to lead to hysteria,” said Dr. Jay Lieberman of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
“The vast majority of people with a history of tick bites are not going to develop this allergy to meat and will continue to eat meat with no problem, even among those with positive antibody tests to alpha-gal. It’s just a small proportion who will actually have symptoms.”
Some of the symptoms include waking up in the middle of the night with “belly pain, cramps, and really itchy skin,” Dr. Jay Lieberman told BuzzFeedNews.
The tick, once confined to the Southeast, is now found in states such as New York and Minnesota.
“The range of the tick is expanding,” Commins said.
He said there’s only one way to reduce cases.
“We need people to avoid additional tick bites for the allergic response to wane,” he said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends both taking care in walking outside as well as vigilance to inspect clothing for ticks after coming home.
Dr. Tara Narula said sufferers might be able to eat red meat at some point, CBS reported.
“In some cases it could be (permanent),” Dr. Narula said, “But in most cases, we think it will dissipate over time, usually within a couple years. But if you get tick bites again, it’s going to make the condition take longer to go away.”
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