The Tick That Can Make You Allergic To Meat

“Not eating meat is a decision, eating meat is an instinct.” —Denis Leary, No Cure For Cancer

In A Nutshell

Vegans and vegetarians aside, everyone loves a nice juicy steak. Unfortunately, there are close to 1,500 people in the US who can’t enjoy a T-bone due to a nasty critter known as the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum). This arachnid packs a powerful bite, and for some mysterious reason, infects its human hosts with a dangerous allergy to red meat.

The Whole Bushel

When was the last time you had a hamburger? Mike Abley hasn’t eaten one in over 20 years, but it isn’t because he dislikes beef or has moral qualms about eating meat. According to an article in Popular Science, Mr. Abley is one of approximately 1,500 people who are allergic to read meat . . . and it’s all thanks to an eight-legged parasite.

Known as the Lone Star tick, this bloodsucking bug lives all over the American South, and while it does hang out in Texas, this repugnant pest gets its name from the white blotch on the back of female ticks. It generally feeds on deer and turkeys, but of course, the Lone Star tick isn’t picky. In fact, it’s downright aggressive. While most young ticks are pretty laid-back, Lone Star larvae will drink human blood, which is extremely rare in the tick world. And unfortunately, a few of these creatures can turn carnivores into herbivores with a single bite.

Folks bitten by the Lone Star tick generally show symptoms three to six hours after eating beef, pork, or lamb. (Even products like marshmallows, JELL-O, and gel-cap vitamins can spark an attack thanks to gelatin, foodstuff made out of meat byproducts.) Once dinner is done, victims might break out in hives, start vomiting, and sometimes go into anaphylactic shock. And unfortunately, these allergic reactions are becoming more and more common. The Lone Star tick is working its way north, hitchhiking on deer and popping up in states like New York and Massachusetts. Even scarier, doctors aren’t 100 percent sure what’s going on.

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Scientists know it has something to do with alpha-gal, a sugar that shows up in non-primate mammals like cows and sheep. Basically, it’s in every hot dog you’ve ever eaten. And if you’re bitten by the Lone Star tick, your body will produce huge amounts of Immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody that doesn’t get along with alpha-gal. When the two come into contact, your immune system freaks out and releases histamines, provoking some pretty deadly reactions. However, there’s still a lot researchers don’t know. Why does it take so long for symptoms to show up? Do all Lone Star ticks possess this power or just a few? And what about the tick’s bite is so dangerous? Is it the saliva, or something living in the tick’s stomach?

While scientists aren’t sure, they do know the number of alpha-gal allergies is increasing rapidly. In fact, people across the world are breaking out in rashes and suffering from abdominal cramps thanks to different kinds of ticks. In Australia, researchers have discovered similar cases thanks to the Ixodes holocyclus (a tick that usually prefers bandicoots), and other victims have been found in European countries like Spain and Sweden. Fortunately, the alpha-gal allergy will usually fade away after a few years . . . assuming you aren’t bitten by anymore ticks.

Show Me The Proof

The Wall Street Journal: Ticks That Spread Red-Meat Allergy
Popular Science: Ticks That Can Make People Severely Allergic To Meat Are Spreading In The U.S.
NPR: Rare Meat Allergy Caused By Tick Bites May Be On The Rise
The New Yorker: Can Ticks Make You Allergic To Red Meat?

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