The tick, which makes people allergic to red meat, is spreading north and west in the United States – Advice Eating

Spring weather has reawakened ticks, and one tick in particular is becoming more common in the eastern United States: the lone star tick. A bite from this tick, easily identified by the white spot on its back when female, can cause people to have lifelong adverse reactions to red meat consumption.

The lone star tick originated in the southern states but has spread north and west to cover much of the eastern half of the United States. With a warming climate, more ticks are surviving the winter months and their range is increasing.

Unlike the black-legged (deer) tick, the solitary star tick does not transmit Lyme disease, but it can cause a severe food allergy in humans called alpha gal syndrome, an allergy to red meat.

When lone star ticks feed on mammals such as mice, rabbits, or deer, they ingest alpha-gal sugars. When the ticks later bite and feed on humans, they inject the alpha gal sugar into their human host with their saliva.

Primates do not have alpha gal in their bodies. Therefore, the human immune system recognizes alpha-gal from a tick bite as a foreign substance and responds to it, including developing antibodies. The tick bite site often becomes swollen and itchy.

However, if red meat, which also contains alpha-gal sugars, is eaten after the lone star tick bite, the immune system recognizes the alpha-gal from the meat as a foreign substance. As a result, it triggers a different reaction that is often much more severe than the initial reaction to the tick bite.

Alpha-gal allergy to red meat can cause skin rash, hives, itching, swelling, shortness of breath, headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. In severe cases, a person can experience anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction.

Initially, Alpha Gal Syndrome was difficult to diagnose because the allergic reaction occurs many hours after eating meat. Also, allergy to red meat is lifelong and can get worse over time.

Keith Tremel of Edgewater, Md. is a competitive grill cook who can’t eat or taste his smoked beef and pork dishes. He must wear rubber gloves when handling red meat or he will develop a rash. He contracted Alpha Gal Syndrome from a tick bite five years ago and is highly allergic to most of the meat he cooks.

Tremel recalls the tick bite that gave him Alpha Gal Syndrome: “I was bitten on my thigh by a tick while I was sleeping. It woke me up. I pulled the tick and immediately saw the white dot. I had recently read an article about Alpha Gal and Lone Star ticks, so I recognized it immediately. I wouldn’t say the bite was painful, but it woke me up.”

Shortly after the tick bite, Tremel ate a hamburger that caused a rash almost all over his body. A week later, another hamburger made the same rash. Later, a third hamburger had a similar result, and Tremel went to see a doctor, fearing Alpha Gal Syndrome.

Tremel’s doctor had never heard of Alpha-Gal and looked it up on his laptop while Tremel waited. The diagnosis was later Alpha Gal Syndrome. “It wasn’t reassuring when I realized I knew more about Alpha-Gal than a medic,” Tremel said in an email.

“Before my diagnosis, I loved bacon cheeseburgers. My wife and two kids both like bacon, and my son likes steak, so cooking it can be a bit of an ordeal for them. I’m used to the BBQ competitions and catering now, but it was frustrating at first.”

Tremel and his teammates compete in the Kansas City Barbeque Society, cooking chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket in each competition. Chicken, he said, is the only meat he can taste. For the rest of the dishes, he relies on his teammates’ “taste buds” to make last-minute changes to our turn-ins, e.g. B. Does it need more spice, less spice, is it salty, too sweet, etc.?”

After Tremel’s alpha gal diagnosis, his favorite foods have changed to chicken tacos and pizza. “Dairy hasn’t affected me so far, so cheese is still fine.”

William Gimpel, a retired entomologist from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, was recently bitten by a tick in Virginia’s Northern Neck. But it wasn’t until six years ago that he was officially diagnosed with Alpha Gal Syndrome.

Gimpel’s allergic reaction to red meat was severe. Gimpel said in an email: “I got hives, passed out, my blood pressure dropped and I told my wife on the way to the emergency room that I couldn’t see. That was my most serious reaction.”

Initially, Gimpel was told he was allergic to beef. For several years he subsisted on pork, lamb and venison. Then he had an allergic reaction to pork and three months later he had a bad reaction to lamb. Eventually he found an allergist who correctly diagnosed his condition as Alpha Gal Syndrome.

Gimpel remains optimistic about his alpha-gal allergy. He wrote, “The best news is that I eat all non-red meat, including chicken, turkey, fish, crab and other shellfish!”

Not all Lone Star tick bites produce Alpha Gal Syndrome. I was bitten by one in the DC area earlier this month, but haven’t developed a red meat allergy…yet. In fact, I’ve been bitten by over a dozen lone star ticks.

The increase in ticks can be attributed to warmer temperatures throughout the seasons. Michael Raupp, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, said warmer winter temperatures allow more ticks to survive the usually harsh season. Mild weather in autumn, winter, and spring also allows them to actively forage for hosts for extended periods, increasing their chances of survival. Finally, Raupp said that an increase in the animals the ticks feed on, such as white-tailed deer, also helps increase tick populations.

In addition to alpha-gal, Lone Star ticks transmit diseases including Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI), which causes skin rashes, fever, fatigue, and pain in muscles and joints. Another disease transmitted by the lone star tick is Ehrlichiosis, which has flu-like symptoms such as headache, joint and muscle pain, fever, and fatigue.

The female lone star tick has a white patch on its back, but the male does not, making identification difficult. However, the lone star tick has a different shape than the dog tick and is much larger than the deer tick.

However, if you do develop Alpha Gal Syndrome, some will opt for genetically modified meat. Recently, pigs have been genetically modified to remove alpha-gal sugars so their organs can be transplanted into humans with less chance of rejection. The leftover meat can be used as food for people with Alpha Gal Syndrome.

A company called Revivicor has been sending out packages of its Alpha-Gal-Free pork to people with Alpha-Gal Syndrome. And so far, it looks like the meat from the Alpha-Gal-free pigs can be eaten without allergic reactions.

In December 2020, the FDA approved the genomic modification of pigs for food and cosmetics, so selling alpha-gal-free meat to people with alpha-gal syndrome could have a future.

Maybe one day Tremel can grill pork ribs for the competition and taste test it himself without the help of others. And then eat the leftovers.

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