What Makes You Tick: Pest Causes Allergy to Red Meats

By Marisa Ross

Attention, carnivores: If you like chowing down on a nice T-bone steak or juicy hamburger, you might want to take some precautions the next time you dine near a woody area.

A recent incline in cases of lone star tick bites is causing concern for red meat lovers everywhere. The tick, which causes the rare allergy to meats like beef, lamb, goat and bison, was first discovered a few years ago, but there have been more reported allergies in the past few months, especially in the southeastern region of the U.S., including Florida.

So, if you’re planning on cozying up to a campfire as the temperatures drop this holiday season, learn some safety precautions about this critter and how to protect yourself from it.

Image Courtesy of AFPMB

What is a lone star tick?

Named for the white spot on adult females’ backs and for its initial appearance in Texas, this tick is as small as a newspaper print “o” but can swell to a “0” when it feeds on blood, according to a UF entomologist.

How can it cause a red meat allergy?

These ticks contain a sugar called alpha-gal, which is also found in red meat. Humans do not produce this sugar. When the lone star tick bites them, the sugar is seen as a foreign contaminant, so the body’s immune system creates antibodies to fight it off. Therefore, it is difficult for future consumption of red meat. Researchers aren’t sure if the long-term effects are permanent, but they have linked these tick bites with mild to severe allergies.

What are the symptoms?

Reported symptoms range from mild redness and itchiness to hives and anaphylactic shock. Some people may even experience a reaction from proximity to smoke on a grill used for red meat. Other side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, a drop in blood pressure and trouble breathing. Ultimately, consumption of red meat with this tick-induced allergy can be fatal.

How can you protect yourself?

If you can’t avoid brush areas, make sure to wear clothing with full coverage. Spraying anything you plan to wear in wooded areas with permethrin, a type of insecticide available online and at pharmacies, will likely protect you against the pest. Besides wearing effective bug spray and layers, be aware of ticks when hiking, fishing or enjoying outdoor activities.

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