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The Tick That Could Make You Allergic to Meat

Posted in Food Allergens,Food Safety on August 24, 2018

We all know what allergies are. Most of us even have allergic reactions to certain things. Be it dairy, nuts, eggs, or shellfish (this list is minute compared to the things we are allergic to); almost everyone has had an allergic reaction to something and understands the annoying symptoms these cause.

There is a relatively “new” allergy being discovered, and frankly, it terrifies me: an allergy to meat.

I understand there are readers who are vegetarians, and I respect those life decisions. I myself, am a carnivore, and enjoy the succulent taste of a steak or cheeseburger; not to mention fried chicken. And the thought of being allergic to my favorite kinds of meat makes me rethink ever going outside again … I kid.

So, what is this allergic reaction and where does it come from? Well, scientists have narrowed it down to a lesser known tick species they call the “Lone Star tick.” I believe for my sanity, and our collective understanding, we need to take a look at this culprit, what exactly can this allergy do, and preventative measures we can use. After all, I for one never want to look at a nice juicy steak and not be able to take that first glorious bite.

When I said relatively “new” I mean we have to only go back a decade or so. A doctor in North Carolina first started noticing a surge in allergies in 2009 and has recorded a heavy upswing each year since. Scientists are still looking into why the Lone Star tick causes meat allergies, but they have associated the bite with the allergies. This is still a rare find considering about 5,000 cases this year have been reported, but they expect that number to continue to grow. It deserves a look when the CDC adds this information to their site.

There is a whole scientific explanation that I will spare you. Here is an easier to understand one from cbsnews.com: “Essentially the meat allergy is an allergy to the alpha-gal carbohydrate that’s found in cows, pigs, sheep, and other non-primate, but not humans. Researchers theorize that if a tick bites an animal with the alpha-gel carbohydrate and then bites a human, it injects the carbohydrate into the person’s bloodstream. The human body then mounts an antibody response that can activate after consuming red meat.”

Called the Lone Star tick due to a white spot on its back, this little parasite is in a family of arachnids. I personally think they look like watermelon seeds, but I’m no scientist. We know they feed off the blood of other living animals and this is where the disease carrying issue comes from. We also know they are found more in the wilderness than in the cities so a lot has been said to hunters and campers. There seems to be a region of the United States where more are found and that is the East and South East parts but due to multiple factors there is continuous growth outwards.

Because little is known about how or why this particular tick is carrying this allergy causing disease, a lot of information covers all tick prevention. Luckily, signs and symptoms are mostly the same no matter the cause.

Pro Tip: No matter the allergy, if you feel any symptoms starting – DO NOT WAIT. Time is a factor and can save your life. Seek urgent medical attention.

If one or more of these symptoms persist, seek medical help. The CDC lists these symptoms as tick-related:

  • Fever
  • Aches and pains
  • Rash or hives
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Anaphylaxis

It is important to think about the region you live in or have visited too. If you live in and have not left the North-West for example, it is still important to have these symptoms checkout out, but it is probably not ticks.

As I’ve stated many times, knowledge and preparation are key when it comes to food safety. The same principle applies here: knowing how to prevent bites can go a long way. Here are some quick tips to remember (more in-depth information can be found here at the CDC website):

Before

Know where you can expect to find ticks. Grass, bushes, trees, and animals are where you will find these sneaky guys the most. Be aware of your surroundings.

Use insect repellents. Make sure the repellent is EPA-approved.

Avoidance. Stay out of the woods and on clear paths.

After

Check clothing. Carrying a tick into the house on your clothing is easy due to their small size.

Check gear. The same applies for any gear (or animals) you took outside. Check everything thoroughly.

Check your body. Full-body inspections are important. Make sure to check places harder to see and those less obvious:

  • Under the arms
  • Around ears
  • Belly buttons
  • Backs of knees
  • In any hair thick enough to not see in

To date, there is no cure for contracting this allergy. And like most other allergies, it will stay with you for life. Also, the severity can differ depending on what you eat, so abstaining from meat seems to be the only safe alternative. Maybe in the future as scientists understand more of what is happening, there will be a work around for this. Until that time, prevention is our only defense.

The more I researched this little pest and the alternative if bitten, the more I felt a pit in my stomach. It is fair to say I am a huge fan of meat and not being able to eat meat would literally suck for me. This does not mean I will live in fear though. I enjoy the outdoors. I love nature and going for walks and camping with my friends and family. Now that I understand the stakes more, the responsibility falls on me to keep my family safer when outside.

Consider this a wakeup call. It is time to be more diligent when it comes to the dangers the outdoors bring. We take multiple precautions when hiking, camping, and enjoying the outdoors; add being more careful concerning ticks to your regiment.

By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)