If there’s one thing I love it’s sitting down to a juicy steak or double beef burger after a long, hard day at the office. The simple pleasure one gets from devouring a well-cooked piece of meat can be akin to some form of religious experience, but for many, their love of meat has been put at risk due to the rise of a tick that’s making humans allergic to red meat.
Originating in America’s South, the Lone Star tick got its name from the white dot that appears on the back of adult females that sometimes resembles the star on the flag of Texas. These ticks are growing in numbers across the States and moving into residential areas, recently being found all the way up in New England.
Dr Scott Commins, an allergist and associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, first identified the damaging tick a decade ago. Back then only a handful of cases had been reported, but today this has increased dramatically.
“We’re confident the number is over 5,000 [cases], and that’s in the U.S. alone,” Commins told NPR.
Commins first began looking into the cause of the allergy back in 2007 when people began complaining of negative reactions when eating meat. At first, he thought it was a parasite but after discovering many of the patients spent time outdoors and hiking, Commins and his team figured out a bite from the tiny parasite was the cause.
People who were bitten by the aggressive tick commonly suffered from hives, nausea, itching and gastrointestinal troubles just a few hours after consuming red meat. In severe cases, people reported difficulty breathing, swelling of the tongue or throat, dizziness and fainting.
It’s believed when the tick bites a human it injects them with alpha-gal, a sugar that animals – including cows, pigs and sheep – make in their bodies. The human body normally produces antibodies to stop alpha-gal infecting us, but it seems these ticks are getting the sugar by biting wild animals and the human body has no defence against this new form of the sugar.
But it’s not just American’s who are affected, with rising numbers of Australian’s living on the East coast being treated for mammalian meat allergies (MMA).
Unfortunately there is no cure for MMA, so if you don’t want to end up eating tofu and drinking kale shakes for the remainder of your days, the best way to prevent infection is by wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants when outdoors and generally be aware of your surroundings, particularly if you have pets.