Food

There's a Tick That Can Make You Allergic to Meat—and It's Spreading (Video)

Bacon lovers, be warned!

Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Imagine one day, right out of the blue, all that delicious meat you’ve come to know, love, and eat suddenly made you feel sick to the pit of your stomach?

That’s the reality facing an increasing number of Americans. Yep, believe it or not in the past fifteen years, thousands of carnivores have suddenly become heavily allergic to meats of all kinds. The reason? A tiny little sucker known as the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum).

Following a bite from this tick and the consumption of meat, patients have reported feverish itching, stomach cramps, trouble breathing and in extreme cases even death. Needless to say, those that survive suddenly find themselves with a lot less bacon on their plates.

While the tick actually owes its name to a white Texas-shaped mark on its back, the southern state also happened to be its primary hunting ground. That was until recently. Within the last year, at least 100 cases of the tick-induced allergy have sprung up in Duluth, Minnesota; Hanover, New Hampshire; and the eastern tip of Long Island, Wired recently reported.

This map shows the extent of established Amblyomma americanum tick populations, commonly known as lone star ticks. However, tick abundance within this area varies locally. The map does not represent the risk of contracting any specific tickborne illness. Please consult your local health department or USDA Cooperative Extension office to learn about the risks of tickborne disease in your local area. (image and text: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

“There’s something really special about this tick,” said Jeff Wilson, a fellow in the University of Virginia allergy research division focused on this allergy. The division had come to these findings having discovered that 80 percent of the meat-allergy sufferers investigated had previously reported being bitten by a tick. “Just a few bites and you can render anyone really, really allergic,” Wilson told Wired.

The reason for this reaction, the researchers’ findings show, has to do with patient's immune systems, which are rejiggered by the tick’s saliva to build up an intolerance to “galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose” (alpha-gal), a certain type of sugar molecule found in meat.

The team has come to conclude the specific cause of this has to do with the increased production of alpha-gal antibodies. Basically, these antibodies—which reports show grow with a 20-fold increase in tick-bite patients—trigger a massive release of histamines whenever red meat is eaten, causing the allergic effects.

For now, the team are trying to trace the tick’s spread and ascertain for sure that the allergies are in fact being caused by this tick and not a different species. Regardless, if you’re a burger fan and fancy the odd walk in the woods, be sure going forward to double check yourself for those crafty suckers.

Watch a video about the spread of the Lone Star tick:

Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He tweets infrequently @RobScherHimself.

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