FRIDAY, Nov. 9 (HealthDay News) -- New research adds to a
growing body of evidence that suggests certain tick bites may cause
even the most seasoned of carnivores to develop an allergy to red
Here's how it works in humans, experts say: The Lone Star tick,
which is found largely in central and southern U.S. regions,
injects spit into your body when it bites you. When this occurs,
your body develops antibodies to a carbohydrate in the tick's spit
that is known as alpha-gal, a carbohydrate that is also present in
red meat. The person then eats meat, and an allergic reaction is
This reaction tends to occur within three to six hours after
eating meat, and can range in severity from mild hives and itching
to full-blown anaphylactic shock (a potentially deadly
The new study found that positive alpha-gal rates are actually
32 percent higher in states where the Lone Star tick is known to
lurk, compared with other parts of the country. That said, there
were higher than expected rates of alpha-gal positivity even in
states where the Lone Star tick is not usually seen, the
The findings are to be presented Friday at the American College
of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) annual meeting, in
This red meat-tick connection was first discovered when
researchers were trying to determine why a certain cancer drug was
causing severe allergic reactions in people in the southern states.
As it turns out, the sugars in that drug are also present in beef,
pork and cow's milk.
"It's called molecular mimicry, and it is fascinating," said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious diseases specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. "This new study substantiates the frequency of this risk."
Climate change may also mean that Lone Star ticks will start
appearing in other regions, so the findings "emphasize the
importance of preventing tick bites," Hirsch said.
ACAAI president Dr. Stanley Fineman called the tick-meat allergy
"It is an immune response to saliva of the tick that they leave behind when they bite, and this study really shows a higher prevalence of positive reactions in areas of the country that are endemic to the Lone Star tick," he said. "It is a bigger problem than we probably realized."
The reaction can occur up to six hours after the person eats the
red meat. "Symptoms include hives, or itching in the mouth and
swelling in the throat that occur after eating a hamburger [for
example]," Fineman explained.
How can you know for sure? "Be a detective," Fineman said. "If
you get hives, figure out what you ate just before and if it was a
meal with beef, lamb or pork, you should probably check with an
allergist, especially if you like to go outside" in areas commonly
inhabited by ticks.
Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as
preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Learn how to avoid ticks at the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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