If you're a meat lover, you probably enjoy a cooked-to-perfection steak, burgers on the grill, and tender filet mignon as part of your regular diet. You may be accustomed to eating red meat on a regular basis and can't imagine life without a good steak. However, one bite from a tiny insect could end your love affair with red meat forever.
Little insect, toxic bite
The Lone Star tick is a tiny insect found across the east, southeast, and southcentral United States. It was named for the tiny star shape seen on the back of the female Lone Star tick. Like other ticks, you may not be aware of the bite from a Lone Star tick until it causes a reaction to develop later on.
The Lone Star tick carries a sugar called alpha-gal. This sugar is not found in humans but is found in beef, venison, and pork. The sugar doesn't normally cause a problem when eaten in meat and digested, but can cause a life-threatening reaction when it enters the bloodstream from a tick bite.
The bite from a Lone Star tick triggers an immune system response that causes the body to treat the alpha-gal like a foreign substance and creates antibodies to resist it. This subsequently causes an allergic reaction the next time a previously bitten person eats red meat.
Once you are bitten by a Lone Star tick, you won't develop symptoms until you ingest red meat. To further complicate the problem, the allergy does not occur immediately upon eating red meat. It typically occurs several hours afterwards.
Symptoms can be severe and even lead to anaphylactic shock. The reaction may begin as hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, and a drop in blood pressure. Since the reaction is delayed, people are often confused regarding what is causing their frightening symptoms.
If you live in an area where ticks are common, and if you enjoy camping or hiking in wooded areas, you should take precautions to avoid tick bites. Wearing long sleeves and keeping your body parts covered is important. You can also use insect repellants to ward off the ticks. Always examine your scalp and body after returning from an outing to check for ticks.
What to do if you suspect a tick bite
If possible, place the tick in a small plastic bag to help with identification. Make an appointment with your physician to discuss your concerns. If it is confirmed that the tick is a Lone Star tick, you may want to seek help from an allergy doctor like Allergy Partners of Richmond to talk about preventing a severe reaction from occurring.
If you don't recall being bitten by a tick but develop symptoms of an allergic reaction, you should proceed to the nearest emergency facility for help. Trying to treat a severe allergy at home can be deadly. Allergic reactions can become life threatening fast. Always seek help immediately.
Doctors are seeing a surge in patients with meat allergies related to tick bites. However, you shouldn't live in fear of the Lone Star tick or avoid all outdoor activities. Use good precautionary measures when in tick prone areas. Be consistent in checking yourself and other family members for signs of tick bites. Being informed and knowing what to look for will go a long way towards protecting you and your loved ones.