Health News

Tick Bites That Cause Meat Allergy Appearing More Frequently

Photo from Wikipedia

Summer brings in sun, sand and surf. But this year, it appears to be adding in a troubling new thing: a rare meat allergy caused by ticks.

Doctors are seeing more of these strange cases, USA Today reports. Most food allergies, when triggered, cause symptoms in a matter of seconds or minutes. This usually means difficulty breathing or hives. But this allergy, caused by a lone star tick bite, occurs differently.

Dr. Scott Commins of the division of rheumatology, allergy & immunology at the Thurston Research Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said,

It’s not the classic ‘my throat is closing when I eat peanut butter,’ reaction.

He explained, “These [patients] would get hives and talk about G.I. distress, or needing to go to the restroom, and itching and swelling. Some would have to go to the ER to get treated.”

A kind of sugar called alpha-gal in mammalian meat prompts the allergic reaction. Commins noted that allergists across the country have been seeing an increase in the allergy, which used to be a rarity. Some specialists are seeing one to two patients a week. UNC alone has 537 patients, and there are others treating hundreds from Georgia to New York.

Doctors first observed the allergic reaction, also called alpha-gal syndrome, around ten years ago. They were able to determined that those who had developed the allergy all had one thing in common: they were bitten by lone star ticks.

“The question was: what in the world is happening to these patients that they all of a sudden develop an allergy to steak they ate successfully for 40 years?” Commins said. “We wondered could this be due to tick bites? and we went back and started asking our patients and fortunately almost to a tee all of them said had a history of tick bites.”

The ticks have expanded their territory as the climate has warmed, causing the syndrome and the allergy to occur more frequently and appear further north. The allergy is so new that no government agency seems to have enough information on it, and Commins said that there is no FDA-approved treatment yet. While the allergy generally fades over time, more tick bites appear to bring it back.

Commins added, “Part of me feels as though we have just kind of scratched the surfaces of what tick bites can do. I don’t have the data for that, but just this hunch that they seem to be able to modulate our immune system in ways we may not understand.”

Click to comment
To Top

Hi - Get Important Content Like This Delivered Directly To You

Get important content and more delivered to you once or twice a week.

We don't want an impostor using your email address so please look for an email from us and click the link to confirm your email address.