Red meat allergy transmitted by lone star ticks on the rise

Author: CBS News
Photo via CBS News

A mysterious and rare condition transmitted by ticks may be on the rise. A bite from the lone star tick can cause people to develop a red meat allergy, and in some cases a reaction to dairy products.

A researcher from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered more than 5,000 cases were reported in the country. That’s up from 3,500 two years ago.

On “CBS This Morning” Thursday, Dr. Tara Narula said medical experts have just begun to understand the condition within the last decade.

“In some cases it could be [permanent],” Dr. Narula said, “But in most cases we think it will dissipate over time, usually within a couple years. But if you get tick bites again, it’s going to make the condition take longer to go away.”

Essentially the meat allergy is an allergy to the alpha-gal carbohydrate that’s found in cows, pigs, sheep and other non-primates, but not humans. Researchers theorize that If a tick bites an animal with the alpha-gal carbohydrate and then bites a human, it injects the carbohydrate into the person’s bloodstream. The human body then mounts an antibody response that can activate after consuming red meat.

The lone star tick is found in much of the eastern U.S., but is most common in the South.

Some reports show the ticks are spreading to new areas as temperatures climb.

Symptoms of the meat allergy include hives, skin rash, stomach problems, headaches and trouble breathing. There is no treatment or cure other than avoiding red meat.

Female lone star ticks have a white spot on their back while males have spots or streaks around the edge of the body, but those characteristics are nearly imperceptible to the naked eye.

“The important thing is to do tick checks,” Narula said. “When you come in from the outdoors, take a shower, put your clothes in the dryer on high-heat for ten minutes, avoid high grassy areas, stay on trails and treat your dogs.”

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