Red meat allergy linked to tick bites

Recent studies have found a link between red meat allergies and Lone Star tick bites. The Lone Star tick is identified by a tell-tale white mark. 

Summer in Kansas brings a few certainties for its residents. There are the extreme adjustments in temperatures as the season burns ever forward, the singing chorus of the locusts that contribute to life’s yearly soundtrack and the outdoor barbecues being lit as the heat of the day fades into the comfortable lull of a slower paced way of life. Most of these things we look forward to without question as the chill of the winter is tossed aside, along with our warm winter coats, but every rose has its thorn, and not everything the warm winds carry is pleasant.

Tick season, in particular, comes to mind. One now has to worry about applying bug spray, choosing the kind, wondering if they should wear a hat or if they should just forget about the whole ordeal—It’s only a tick, right? Well, there may be more to that mere tick bite than you may want to believe.

Now the lone star tick is making its way into mainstream conversation, alongside the many other Kansas ticks, because of an interesting new phenomenon that many would never consider possible. These tick bites may not give you the Lyme disease or the Rocky Mountain spotted fever that may have worried your parents in your youth, but they can leave you with a different sort of debilitation—a sometimes-permanent allergy to red meat.

The way allergies affect people is when their body is invaded by a foreign particle, being exposed to something that is not considered native by their body,  it reacts with some kind of an immune response.

Takrima Sadikot, assistant professor of biology, explains how the tick injects its saliva into you as it bites and how that creates an allergic reaction in your body.

“When bitten by the lone star tick, it introduces a sugar into your body that is known as alpha-gal,” said Sadikot. “Red meat also contains the same sugar so your first introduction to this sugar is when you’re exposed by the tick bite and upon being exposed to it again, in the form of red meat, you develop an allergic reaction to the sugar.”

Proteins are broken when the body metabolizes digested foods. Those proteins are broken down into smaller components for easy absorption and then passes around as nutrients.

“Because a tick bite will introduce that protein directly into your blood antibodies are produced there, so now when you consume the red meat you start having a reaction,“ said Sadikot.

What’s worse is many people who are affected by this condition may not even know what they’re allergic to or what is affecting them. After consuming red meat, it may take between three to six hours to feel the effects of the histamine reaction as it tears into your body causing hives, stomachaches and possible anaphylaxis. The severity of your reaction depends on how many antibodies your system has produced to fight against the invaders.

Now that you have a personal reason to protect yourself from these disease-carrying insects, you may want to consider learning the symptoms of the more well-known health problems caused by tick bites.

In general tick-borne illness may cause your body to have fever and chills (to varying degrees), head and muscle aches as well as possible joint pain. Your skin may also produce a rash, including a bulls-eye pattern appearing on your skin with the bite at its center, but you can’t always use this as a guideline for health.

According to the CDC, “Tickborne diseases can result in mild symptoms treatable at home to severe infections requiring hospitalization. Although easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. However, early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications. So see your doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of the symptoms described here.”

Rodrigo Mercader, also an assistant professor of biology, adds that commonsense tips prevail when trying to remain disease free during the summer months.

“You can put your pants inside your socks when you’re going into areas in which you may encounter ticks. You can bring repellant, like DEET, and spray along any area the tick may actually be able to get into,” said Mercader. “Even if it’s a hot day, if you’re going to go into areas with high grass, roll your pants into your shoes so you’re all covered. Those are about the best things you can do to protect yourself.”