Oklahoma residents are being warned that bites from the lone star tick could cause severe red-meat allergy.
Scientist are warning Oklahoma residents and others across the United States to stock up on tick repellent when heading into the outdoors. This comes after the discovery that a simple bite from a lone star tick could cause a severe, and possibly permanent allergy to red meat.
19-year-old Garret Massey from Skiatook, Oklahoma is the latest victim of what these tiny ticks are capable of. Garret never thought a little tick could change his life so dramatically.
"They're just part of life. You always get ticks, mowing the lawn or whatever," Garret told Tulsa World News.
He can no longer enjoy any type of red meat including pork, beef, lamb, rabbit, goat, or venison. Foods that also contain gelatin, lard, or whey protein are also off the menu for him, leaving only poultry and fish as the only meat he can enjoy anymore.
If he does ingest any red meat or their bi-products he could go into anaphylactic shock. When this happens, your blood pressure drops, airways narrow, a rash envelopes the body, and your pulse slows, sometimes even causing death if not treated immediately with an epipen.
In 2011, the University of Virginia was the first to discover the correlation between the lone star tick bites and the new allergy they pass on. They found the ticks carry a sugar called "alpha-gel" that is not found in humans, but in animals such as deer, cows, and rabbits. When bitten by the tick, your body creates antibodies to combat the sugar, but, in turn, causes your body to reject red meats.
Katherine Kocan from Oklahoma State University has studied tick-born diseases on cattle for almost 40 years. She said this new study was a turning point in how allergies can be passed on not just from ticks, but from mosquitoes and other biting insects.
"It's not a disease; it's not a pathogen. I think it's a big shift. Who would have ever put ticks and food allergies together?" asked Kocan who helped with the study at the University of Virginia.
Her and her husband both suffer from the rare allergy as well. They discovered their reaction while on a trip to Greece after her husband was hospitalized hours after eating lamb kabobs. They were both tested and found to have the alpha-gal allergy, only hers is more mild.
The most important thing to remember about the allergy is its time delay. It only comes into play after the food is digested and hits your bloodstream, which could be hours after ingestion.
"At the point it hits the bloodstream, it's just like being stung by a bee," explained Kocan.
Unfortunately there is no cure and doctors do not know if the allergy is permanent or not. Once you become infected with the alpha-gal it is like dealing with any other allergy, you learn to avoid can set off a reaction and hope for the best.