Meat Allergy Develops after Lone Star Tick Bites
By Jill Anne Sparapany
Tick bites are especially common in the summer — and they can transmit some dangerous and even deadly conditions like Lyme disease.
But here’s one you might not have heard about — a tick bite that causes an allergy to red meat. The culprit is called the Lone Star tick, named after the Lone Star state of Texas. This species of tick has spread from the Southwest to Midwest and East Coast. (see the range map below)
In 2008, pharmaceutical researchers studying the effects of a new cancer drug, Erbitux, observed the drug was causing severe allergic reactions in patients only living in southern states. They found the sugars (alpha-gal) in Erbitux (derived from mouse cells) are also present in beef, pork and cow milk. The research team concluded these people were carrying an antibody that responded to the sugars in the drug.
Doctors had been noticing more and more cases of an odd phenomenon: people were becoming allergic to red meat, suddenly and with severe allergic reactions. Testing blood samples showed these people had the same Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to alpha-gal/sugars as the cancer patients who reacted to Erbitux.
The allergic reaction manifests 3-5 hours after eating meat; the scientists reasoned the sugars triggering the reaction were stored in animal fat, which takes longer to digest than protein or carbohydrates. This would account for the delayed reaction, unlike other food allergies which have an immediate reaction.
The lead researcher on the Erbitux trials had his own IgE levels spike suddenly after he was bitten repeatedly by ticks while hiking in the woods. This finding opened the questioning of patients to include if they had been recently bitten by a tick.
Recently as the tick has increased its range, so has the occurrence of reported meat allergies. Ninety percent (90%) of over 1.500 people who reported meat allergies had been bitten by a tick in the weeks before their allergic reaction. As the Long Star ticks range has increased, so has the number of cases of meat allergy. They are concentrated in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Allergy clusters have been seen in Pennsylvania and the East Hamptons in NY.
The research is now focused on why this tick is producing an immune response to alpha-gal/sugars in humans. Is it something new in the tick saliva or have the ticks always carried it, but meat allergies are now being recognized because of their increased range?
Doctors say once bitten, you can develop the allergy within hours. Victims suffered from hives, a swollen throat and tongue even anaphylactic shock after eating red meat.
Researchers don’t know whether the allergy is permanent but it seems to wane in 3-5 years. However, if you are bitten again, the allergy could be more severe and long-lasting.
One patient who has the meat allergy states that cutting a roast beef sandwich, without eating the beef, has precipitated an allergic reaction!
The government has not yet issued any health warnings about meat allergies associated with the lone star tick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s lists only southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) as a potential health consequence.
People should monitor their health closely after any tick bite, and should consult their physician if they experience a rash, fever, headache, joint or muscle pains, or swollen lymph nodes within 30 days of a tick bite. These can be signs of a number of tickborne diseases.
Tick-borne illness may be prevented by avoiding tick habitat (dense woods and brushy areas), using insect repellents containing DEET or permethrin, wearing long pants and socks, and performing tick checks and promptly removing ticks after outdoor activity.
If you are bitten by a tick: You want to take special care to ensure you remove all of the tick, including the embedded head, and prevent squeezing blood from the tick into your pet or you! Using fine tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick to remove because you can cause mouth parts of the tick to break off, remaining in the skin. If parts of the tick do remain in the skin, try to remove them. (The CDC, Centers for Disease Control, state to leave the mouth part alone and let the skin heal.) When the tick is removed, clean the bite area and your hands thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, iodine scrub or soap and water.
Do not attempt tick removal by “folklore remedies” using nail polish, petroleum jelly or heat!
Do not wait for the tick to detach.
Once the tick is removed, place it in alcohol in a plastic container with secure lid. Do not flush it down the toilet or burn it.
If your pet becomes sick, develops a rash or fever within several weeks of tick bite, see your vet. Inform them of the recent tick bite, when and where the tick bite probably occurred. The tick you saved may help the vet determine the illness. The same applies to any tick bite you may have!
NOTE: I did NOT find any reference to a pet developing a meat allergy to beef pet food after being bitten by a tick. Literature review shows this is only a human allergic reaction.
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