I know what you’re thinking, “another blog about ticks?”
Well, last week, a SOLO student brought this information to our attention and it was so remarkable, we just had to share it with you!
Not only can nature’s little septic tanks transmit all kinds of nasty diseases, they can also spur the development of allergies to beef, pork, and lamb! Even if people have eaten and enjoyed red meat for many years without incident, research shows the link between a tick bite and severe allergic reactions to these meats! It can be weeks or months from the time of the bite to the time of the first reaction but once the reactions begin, they occur consistently. The reaction starts three to six hours after consuming meat with itching that becomes progressively more severe, followed by swelling, and then airway constriction and loss of consciousness, if not treated.
A team from University of Virginia headed by an internationally prominent allergist, Thomas Platts-Mills, recently published a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology detailing the cases of 24 adults who developed a sudden allergy to red meat. Eighty percent had reported being bitten by a tick weeks or months before the allergy appeared, and many had experienced anaphylaxis as much as six hours after eating red meat. This is very unusual because food allergies typically cause violent reactions within a few minutes. Similar findings were also reported recently in the Medical Journal of Australia by a team of Sydney allergists.
How, you may ask, does a tick bite trigger a sudden allergy to meat?
Scott Commins, a member of the University of Virginia research team that conducted the study, said that to susceptible people a tick bite that causes a significant skin reaction seems to trigger the production of an antibody that binds to a sugar present on meat called alpha-galactosidase, also known as alpha-gal. When a person who has the antibody eats meat, it triggers the release of histamine, which causes the allergic symptoms: hives, itching and, in the worst case, anaphylaxis.
Not everyone is susceptible to this type of reaction to a tick bite. Researchers have observed that people with the rarest blood types - B and AB - do not appear to be vulnerable, because their blood is chemically similar to alpha-gal. In addition, climate appears to play a role. Blood samples from Boston and Scandinavia almost never reveal alpha-gal antibodies, which are common in samples from patients in Virginia, North Carolina and other parts of the South, as well as parts of Australia.
At this time, researchers do not know why anaphylaxis is so delayed or why only some people develop a problem after tick bites. They do, however, know that the allergic reaction is dose-related. Eating a tiny amount of meat probably won't cause a serious reaction but a large steak will.
As warmer weather approaches, it is important to take precautions when entering tick country – perhaps now more than ever!