Lone Star Tick Bite Could Make People Allergic to Meat
National Geographic writes that once a person is “bitten by a Lone Star tick, the body’s immune system is rewired.” The way in which it becomes rewired is the surprising and almost unbelievable part.
Galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose (or Alpha-Gal) is a sugar molecule that is spread from the Lone Star tick bite that could result in a person becoming “allergic to meat.” Allergy and immunology fellow at Vanderbilt University Cosby Stone explains:
“You’re walking through the woods, and that tick has had a meal of cow blood or mammal blood. The tick, carrying Alpha-Gal, bites you and activates your allergy immune system.”
As a result, the body then creates antibodies and becomes “wired to fight Alpha-Gal sugar molecules.” Since meat is “rife” with the sugar molecule, the article notes that most people “realize their illness after eating meat” and adds that Alpha-Gal is also found in some medications that use “gelatins as stabilizers.”
While the symptoms with this allergy can be severe and may include hives, shortness of breath and anaphylactic shock, Dr. Ronald Saff, an allergist in Tallahassee, tells Business Insider why it can still be tricky for people to understand what is happening and make the connection:
“The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions. They’re sleeping, and they have no idea what they could be allergic to because the symptoms occurred so many hours after going to bed.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the Lone Star tick–even when in the larva stage–is “quite aggressive.” While it is found throughout the eastern, southeastern and central states, over the past 20 to 30 years, “the distribution, range and abundance” of the tick has increased due to warming temperatures and can now be found in “large numbers” in Maine, Texas and Oklahoma.
There is currently no cure or vaccine for the allergy, and according to Dr. Andrew Nickels, an allergist and assistant professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, some patients have even developed a sensitivity to the Alpha-Gal found in dairy products.
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