The Lone Star tick, an average looking tick with a white spot on its back that is found throughout the southeast, is the likely culprit behind a rare, but growing more common, meat allergy. The University of Virginia is currently studying the phenomenon that has so far affected at least 1,500 people in this area of the country. According to the Center for Disease Control, the tick is on the move across the country.
According to Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, who is working on the study, “the ticks spit provokes the immune system to make an anti-body in reaction to the sugar in meat called alpha-gal.”
When this occurs, the next time a person eats meat after being bitten, a violent reaction occurs, often hours after the meal is consumed. The team at UVA said that the ticks are most likely being carried by deer into people’s own back yards.
A Virginia man, Emmanuel Spencer, had a near fatal encounter with the rare reaction, six weeks after being bit by a tick. He and his family were traveling on vacation to Jamaica and had enjoyed a steak dinner. Several hours later, he went into full anaphylactic shock, and it was only the quick thinking of his wife who used his son’s epi-pen and performed CPR that kept him alive. Once he returned stateside, the Lone Star tick was blamed as the culprit.
Not all Lone Star ticks have the white dot. Males and juvenile ticks do not. If you are bit by a tick, save the tick and call your healthcare provider.
Ramie Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT