A bite from the lone star tick, so-called for the white spot on its back, looks innocent enough. But researchers say saliva that sneaks into the wound might trigger a reaction to meat agonizing enough to convert lifelong carnivores into wary vegetarians.
“People will eat beef and then anywhere from three to six hours later start having a reaction; anything from hives to full-blown anaphylactic shock,” said Dr. Scott Commins, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Lone star ticks are an “aggressive” species, but scientists are having a hard time proving a causal relationship between the tick bites and the meat allergies. What they do know: “blood levels of antibodies for alpha-gal, a sugar found in beef, lamb and pork, rise after a single bite from the lone star tick.”
The mammal meat allergies are striking those in southern and central parts of the country. From The Huffington Post:
Rates of the allergy to alpha-gal (short for galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, which is a sugar carbohydrate in red meat) are 32 percent higher in these parts of the U.S., where there is also a higher prevalence of lone-star ticks.
Ticks are now more common in more parts of the country — and year-round. “This year’s mild winter and early spring were a bonanza for tick populations in the eastern United States,” the National Science Foundation reported in September. “Reports of tick-borne disease rose fast.” Moreover, “Identifying health risks in the face of changing climates will be critical in coming years.” Especially as disease-ridden ticks are active and reproducing year-round above 38 degrees. Basically, ticks love our warming planet.