- The bite of the Lone Star tick found in the southeast United States can potentially trigger a red meat allergy by injecting a carbohydrate called alpha-gal into the human body, which then reacts defensively when red meat containing the same carbohydrate is consumed.
- The allergic reactions to red meat caused by this tick bite can range from mild skin irritation to severe anaphylactic shocks.
- Scientists discovered this allergy correlation while investigating the origin of severe reactions to a cancer medication, Erbitux, which has a sugar similar to that found in red meat.
- Preventive measures from tick bites include avoiding tick-infested areas and wearing insect repellent with over 20% of DEET.
- If diagnosed with a red meat allergy, individuals must avoid consuming mammal meats like beef, pork, and lamb. Poultry, fish, and chicken are generally safe.
As unusual as it may sound, the bite of a particular tick could potentially cause you to develop a lifetime aversion to red meat. This unusual scenario is believed to be caused by the Lone Star tick, commonly found in the southeast region of the United States. The mechanism behind this unusual occurrence has been investigated in new research, highlighting three case studies to clarify the process.
How Does It Happen?
The Lone Star tick, when it bites, introduces saliva into the victim’s system. This saliva contains a carbohydrate known as alpha-gal. The human body, in response, produces antibodies to fight this foreign substance. Interestingly, this carbohydrate is also found in red meat. Subsequently, when the bitten individual consumes meat, the immune system classifies it as a threat and triggers an allergic reaction, typically delayed, happening around three to six hours after ingestion.
The Range of Allergic Reactions
These allergic reactions can span from mild skin irritation and hives to severe anaphylactic shocks, Dr. Susan Wolver and Dr. Diane Sun from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond explain.
The Discovery of The Meat Allergy
This interesting correlation was first found rather by accident by scientists seeking to understand the cause of severe allergic reactions in individuals in the south to a certain cancer medication, Erbitux (cetuximab). The sugar in Erbitux bears similarities to that found in cows’ milk, beef, and pork.
Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious diseases specialist, humorously termed the occurrence as “the cow’s revenge”, explaining that the bites of the Lone Star tick may inadvertently be creating a group of involuntary vegetarians in the southeast region.
Avoiding Tick Bites
Tick bites don’t only lead to meat allergies but are also known to cause multiple diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Hirsch recommends avoiding tick-infested areas, including high grass, woods, and bushes. He also suggests applying insect repellent containing over 20% of DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin.
Dr. Bernard Feigenbaum, an allergist at the NYU Langone Medical Center, pointed out that while most individuals associate ticks with Lyme disease, this research shows there can be other unexpected allergic consequences. He advises that individuals experiencing abnormal reactions or symptoms after red meat consumption should see their primary care physician or an allergist immediately.
If a red meat allergy is diagnosed, then beef, pork, lamb, venison, and other mammal meats need to be avoided, advises Despina Hyde, a nutritionist at the NYU Langone School of Medicine. “Poultry, fish, and chicken are generally safe,” she adds.
Click here to learn ways to steer clear of ticks where they commonly reside, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.