Allergists were befuddled when a rash of people from the southeastern part of the U.S. began complaining of meat allergies. After all, meat doesn’t usually trigger allergy symptoms. The allergy sufferers had one thing in common, though: They had been bitten by the Lone Star tick.
When the tick bites, its saliva can enter your bloodstream. The tick often carries a carbohydrate known as alpha-gal that is derived from the blood of mammals it has been biting. Your body will attempt to defend itself by producing antibodies to fight off alpha-gal. The problem occurs when you eat read meat that contains alpha-gal. Your body will recognize the carbohydrate and release large amounts of histamine to fight it off. The histamine can cause a host of allergy symptoms:
- Hives or other skin problems
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Hay fever
- Head pain
- Asthma and wheezing
- Anaphylaxis, which can obstruct breathing and become life-threatening
The tick bite can cause you to react to both beef and pork. Some people are so unnerved and even frightened by their unpleasant allergic reactions that they swear off meat altogether.
Not everyone who was bitten by the Lone Star tick will develop meat allergies. Those that do react may not become symptomatic for an hour or two, making it difficult for people to pinpoint the source of their allergies.
Lone Star ticks are primarily found in southeastern states from Texas to Iowa to New England. They feed off of deer, and as the population of deer has grown, so too has the tick population.
Some people are more prone to tick bites than others. Scientists don’t know exactly why, but they suspect that it may have something to do with the way your skin smells to ticks. To avoid ticks, stay out of forested areas with tall grasses and trees. If you must enter these areas, make sure to spray yourself with EPA-recommended insect repellant.
Meat is not a common allergy. Most food allergies stem from the Big 8 foods: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy. Your physician can order a food allergy test kit to diagnose your food allergies. The results can help you know what foods to avoid. Your doctor can also prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to help with food allergy treatment.