This Tick’s Bite Can Make You Allergic to Red Meat…And It’s Spreading

Photo Credit: CDC

A red meat allergy probably sounds like a real life nightmare to most of you readers, but, for some people, finding out they’re allergic to meat comes as a huge relief. That’s because, until their diagnosis, all they’d known is that they kept getting an all-over rash so itchy that sufferers have been know to scratch it until they bleed. These people have an alpha-gal allergy – an allergy to a carbohydrate sugar found in meat.

And how do people develop this allergy? Well, that’s the kicker – doctors and epidemiologists believe it’s linked to the bite of a lone star tick.

Photo Credit: CDC

That’s right. Getting bit by this tick can make you allergic to meat.

The rare allergy was first diagnosed just seven years ago at the University of Virginia, and at first it seemed as if it would always be something of an anomaly. According to Dr. Scott Commins:

The original description of 24 patients we felt at the time was really the end of the story. But it turns out that was the beginning of the story, the tip of the iceberg if you will.

One of the reasons that doctors and researchers are so confused is that the lone star tick lives primarily in the Southeast. Recently, though, cases have been popping up along the east coast and in the upper Midwest – which is where gardening enthusiast Diane Van Eeckhout contracted the allergy.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

It started with her feeling tired, then she began to have painful stomach cramps followed by an awful rash.

I was literally scratching myself until I was bleeding. It was on the bottoms of my feet, my palms, inside my ears, my neck. You can’t even imagine, it’s 24/7, it doesn’t go away.

No doctors were able to diagnose her; they just treated the symptoms. Everyone was stumped until Van Eeckhout’s husband heard a radio report detailing a nearby woman’s similar experience.

The alpha-gal allergy is hard to diagnose not only because it’s so unusual, but also because symptoms often don’t show up for 6-8 hours after you ingest meat. That means people don’t connect the reaction with food the way they would with other, more common allergies. And since the alpha-gal allergy is showing up in places with low or no population of the lone star tick, researchers are beginning to speculate that other ticks may also carry the potential allergy in their bites. More from Dr. Commins:

The worldwide data are the main argument for [the allergy being spread by other species of ticks], because in the places such as Sweden, Europe, and Australia, they don’t have the lone star tick, yet they’re still seeing patients who are presenting with new cases of this strange meat allergy… We’re concerned that maybe we’re sitting on the verge of something that really begins to affect a large percentage of the outdoorsy population in certain areas.

Long story short, if you’ve got an unholy rash or hives that doctors can’t explain or fix with traditional approaches, try to remember the last time you got bit by a tick. If it was recently, have your doctor check for this allergy – or just stop eating red meat and see if it makes a difference.