Just one bite from the Lone Star tick causes some to develop red meat allergy, including venison.
Most hunters and anglers are taught from a young age to do their best to avoid getting bitten by ticks while in the field. Unfortunately, if you spend any significant amount of time in the woods or fields, then you will most likely eventually have a run in with a tick.
With the news of this red meat allergy, it is time to step up your fight in avoiding tick bites.
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It was recently discovered that a sugar known as alpha-gal, which the tick transmits through its bite, can lead to an allergy to red meat including pork, beef, and venison. This allergy can be quite severe and in some cases the reaction lands people in the hospital.
“Classically three to six hours after eating red meat [a person with the allergy] can get with hives, swelling and problems breathing,” Dr. Robert Valet, an assistant professor of allergy and immunology at Vanderbilt University, said. “They may even have a full anaphylactic reaction in which their airways close.”
Alpha-gal is actually found in all red meats. When red meat is consumed, the sugar is broken down in the stomach. However, when it is injected into the bloodstream, like from a tick bite, the body’s immune system creates antibodies against the invader. Then, when red meat is consumed, the body believes it is being attacked and reacts accordingly.
“It’s an interesting mechanism,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says. “It’s really the reverse of what we’re doing when we give allergy shots. When you get a tick bite, it primes the immune system by exposing the blood to this sugar — and that allows the allergy to develop.”
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Now for the big question. Is this red meat allergy permanent?
“Anecdotally, there are some patients in whom it does resolve,” Valet explains. “The most important thing you can do if you develop the allergy, along with avoiding red meat, is to avoid more tick bites since the number of antibodies will rise if there are more tick bites.”
Like all ticks, the Lone Star tick is also capable of spreading other diseases to humans in addition to the red meat allergy. The Lone Star tick’s range includes the area spreading from central Texas north to Iowa and east from there all the way to the East Coast.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
There is no special way to avoid this particular tick. The standard advice still applies. Avoid areas where ticks generally live including brushy locations. Wear bug spray and light colored clothes to assist in finding ticks on your body and tuck your pants into your socks. You may look a little goofy, but that is far better than becoming allergic to red meat.
Have you ever been bitten by a tick? Share your stories, and tick-avoidance tips, in the comments section below.