It’s been in the news and it is scary; people getting bitten by ticks and then developing life-threatening meat allergies. But what do we really know about this relatively new phenomenon and how common is it?
If you live in the Southeast or Eastern United States then you may be aware of the Lone Star tick. It is a tiny arachnid that is red in colour with a bright dot on its back that resembles the shape of Texas. Ticks, in general, are very small and almost imperceptible unless you’re really looking closely. For example, some ticks can be smaller than a poppy seed while others can be as big as a small sunflower seed.
The Lone Star tick has been making news recently as some people who have been bitten by them have developed a bizarre allergy to meat. The allergy is actually to galactose-α-1,3-galactose (α-gal), which is a specific type of sugar molecule that is only found in red meat, pork, and even lamb. Many who develop the alpha-gal allergy have it not only to meat, but to all animal products, including dairy. And in many cases where people had developed the allergy, they have had to be treated for anaphylaxis.
Allergic reactions to foods don’t always happen right away and can even be delayed by as many as eight hours before reactions, however severe, occur, including anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.
Signs of food allergy to look out for include:
- Hives or other skin rashes
- Any range of stomach issues such as cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, even indigestion
- Stuffy or runny nose, headaches, and even sneezing
- Asthma attack
Anaphylaxis can be extremely dangerous. Symptoms can be swollen lips and eyes, swelling of the tongue, difficulty breathing, hives and rashes and other symptoms. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect anaphylaxis.
Parents who are concerned that their kids may have meat or any other food related allergy can ask their doctor for an allergy test to properly diagnose. You may even be given recommendations for diet changes as well as a prescription for an epinephrine pen.
To avoid tick bites, you can wear clothing that is impregnated with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact. Keep your yard mowed and free of tall grasses and brush especially where kids and pets play. Always do tick checks and be aware that not all tick bites will reveal the well-known bullseye rash. Call your family doctor if you suspect a bite.
Food allergies are already frightening enough but to add on the anxiety that can come with a hard to detect danger such as a tick bite can feel especially frustrating. By informing yourself and being vigilant about prevention and protection, you can likely avoid tick bites that can lead to meat allergies.