Saturday, August 9, 2014

Can a tick bite make you allergic to red meat?

My sister said she heard on the news that a bite from tick can cause you to become allergic to red meat.  Then I picked up our local paper and there was a big article about it.  So what is the real story on this?
Apparently this started a few years ago as doctors saw patients becoming allergic to red meat after being bitten by a tick.  It is now becoming more widespread as the tick is spreading from the Southwest and Eastern US to other parts of the country.  An allergist in Long Island, New York has seen 200 cases in his practice.  He notes, “Why would someone think they’re allergic to meat when they’ve been eating it all their lives?”  (Tick bite and red meat) 
So what kind of tick is this?  The Lone Star tick.  Although it is named for Texas, the tick has spread throughout the South and East of the US. Lone star tick bites are likely the cause of thousands of cases of severe red meat allergies that are plaguing patients in Southeastern United States including Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia and spreading up the Eastern Seaboard along with the deer population. (Red meat allergies likely result of lone star tick -- ScienceDaily) 
What is the cause of the allergic reaction to red meat?  Doctors call it “alpha-gel allergy.  Red meat has a sugar in it termed, alpha-gel.  It is found in beef, pork, lamb, venison, and rabbit.  Nothing wrong with this, until one gets bit by the Lone Star tick.  Then one can develop antibodies to the alpha-gel, which can trigger an allergic reaction when they eat red meat.  
What are symptoms of this allergic reaction to red meat?  Hives, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, and even breathing difficulties.   The symptoms take a while, six and even ate hours after you eat the meat.  Dr. Fineman suggests being your own detective.  If you get hives after eating meat, then check in with an allergist.  Especially true if you are an outdoors type and in areas with ticks.  (Lone Star Tick  Bite Might Trigger Red Meat Allergy: Study 
How is it diagnosed?  A blood test can confirm if one has alpha-gel allergy. 
Who discovered this?  A University of Virginia researcher, Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills published a paper on this in 2011.  
Is the allergy permanent?  They don’t seem to know.  Some allergists have found patients with declining antibodies over time, and some think it doesn’t seem to be a lifelong allergy but they really don’t know yet.  
We are always cautious about ticks around Virginia.  Lyme disease was discovered in Lyme, Connecticut and then spread along the East coast before spreading elsewhere.  We also have Rocky Mountain spotted fever from ticks.  But this alpha-gel allergy is certainly a new one for most people.  
 Sources:   Tick bite and red meat,  Tick bites blamed for red-meat allergies, Red meat allergies likely result of lone star tick -- ScienceDaily  Image source:  Lone Star Tick

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