Tick Bite Can Trigger Allergy to Red Meat

The Lone Star tick is called that because it was found in Texas -and throughout the South. This insect’s bite can cause a strange reaction: an allergic reaction to red meat, such as beef, pork, venison, or rabbit. And it’s spreading- Lone Star ticks have been found all the way up the eastern seaboard of the U.S. One allergist on Long Island has seen almost 200 cases of reactions to meat caused by the tick.

The bugs harbor a sugar that humans don't have, called alpha-gal. The sugar is also found in red meat — beef, pork, venison, rabbit — and some dairy products. It's usually fine when people encounter it through food that gets digested.

But a tick bite triggers an immune system response, and in that high-alert state, the body perceives the sugar the tick transmitted to the victim's bloodstream and skin as a foreign substance, and makes antibodies to it. That sets the stage for an allergic reaction the next time the person eats red meat and encounters the sugar.

It’s not yet clear whether the meat allergy triggered by the tick is permanent. Those who have suffered a reaction are wary of tempting fate. Read more about the Lone Star tick at NBC. -via Digg

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My wife became allergic to red meat when she was a kid. I came across this tick association a few years ago, when it first started making the news. It made me feel better because I had never heard of a meat allergy before, and wondered if it might be something else giving a false correlation. (A friend, for example, got a reaction from eating tomatoes. Years later, after moving to Sweden from Canada/US, she discovered it was the pesticide that caused the problems and that tomatoes there don't have the same pesticide. Her boyfriend spent the next month making tomato-based dishes for her.) Now I know I only need to be careful to check the ingredients list before I buy something. (You might be surprised at how often beef is an ingredient in a chicken-based product.) She's also happy to have that mystery resolved.
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