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Tick Bite Can Cause Allergy to Red Meat

A bite from the Lone Star tick can cause an allergy to red meat, known as the alpha-gal allergy.

The tick transmits a sugar molecule called alpha-gal from animals into the human’s bloodstream. When the immune system identifies the alpha-gal, it begins to produce antibodies in large numbers to fight the irritant off. Overproduction of these allergic antibodies triggers hypersensitivity to red meat.

Ticks can be found anywhere in the U.S., but Lone Star ticks are particularly widespread in the Southeast, from Texas to Indiana to New England.

The allergy involves red meat such as beef, lamb, goat, or pork. Symptoms occur three to five hours after eating red meat and include itching, hives, redness, and swelling. In some cases, stomach pain, indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhea were reported.

However, allergic reactions can be more severe and lead to a life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis.

The alpha-gal cases have been on the rise in the last 10 years across the U.S. The increase in case numbers was linked to the rising deer population, a prime host of these ticks. They provide the means for ticks to develop and travel over long distances, making it more likely for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts get bitten at some point.

There is no cure for the red meat allergy at this time. If the diagnosis is confirmed, the treatment is to avoid red meat completely.

But the good news is that this allergy can resolve over time, usually in five to seven years, on its own as long as a person has no additional tick bites.

To avoid tick bites:

  • Make sure your pants, preferably light-colored, fitted tight into your shoes;

  • Use tick repellents;

  • Do a thorough inspection of your body and clothes after you get home from the woods;

  • If you get bitten, remove the tick;

  • Call an allergist if any concerning symptoms occurred after trying red meat.

The alpha-gal blood test can be performed to confirm the diagnosis.

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