The Lone Star tick, or Amblyomma americanum, can cause permanent meat allergies in humans by biting them, due to the tick bite ‘reprogramming’ the immune system
An infestation of Lone Star ticks, which can cause meat allergies in the humans they bite, is a ‘matter of when’, according to a US newspaper report.
The report, in the Nantucket-based outlet The Enquirer and Mirror, is titled ‘Only a matter of time before lone star tick infestation’.
It cites expert Dr. Sam Telford of Tufts University who notes that the ticks have been ‘documented on Nantucket, but not in great numbers that have been found in other nearby areas’.
Officially called the Amblyomma americanum, the tick is known more colloquially as the Lone Star, in reference to the Texas-shaped white marking on its back.
It is most commonly found in southern regions, however, has been spreading to midwest and northeast regions, with global warming being cited as a factor.
Lone Star tick
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the critter is a ‘very aggressive tick that bites humans’.
It says: “The greatest risk of being bitten exists in early spring through late fall… The adult female is distinguished by a white dot or “lone star” on her back. The nymph and adult females most frequently bite humans.”
Notably, it adds, ‘allergic reactions associated with consumption of red meat [pork, beef, and lamb] have been reported among persons bitten by lone star ticks’.
While the precise mechanism that causes the meat allergy is not yet definitively understood, scientists believe it could be the result of the tick bite ‘reprogramming’ the immune system, creating an allergy to a meat-based sugar called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose.
Tick causes meat allergy
Speaking about the tick to Ksat.com, Robert Valet, MD, Allergist/Immunologist, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said: “This is really the first example of a food allergy being driven by an exposure to something else like an insect bite.”
He added that people with the allergy ‘may develop hives, swelling, wheezing, diarrhoea, or life-threatening anaphylaxis when they eat red meat’.
Interestingly, according to the MD, some 30 per cent of those who develop an allergy to meat will also struggle to digest dairy products and so must go dairy-free, though they can consume chicken and fish.
There is no way to reverse the allergy once people have developed it after being bitten – they must simply eschew red meat from their diet.
Been bitten by a Lone Star tick? Or simply fancy swapping out the animal products? It’s easy with our guide to the best red meat alternatives for vegans.
Feature image credit: Robert Körner