– One bite from the lone star tick can be enough to experience anything from intense itchiness and stomach cramping to difficulty breathing. In worst case, the tick can be so dangerous the person who has been bitten can develop a life-threatening allergy and even die.
According to recent reports, the lone star tick is spreading across USA. Previously physicians and researchers only reported the allergy in places the lone star tick calls home, namely the southeastern United States, but now it’s present in other parts of the country as well.
It has reached Duluth, Minnesota, Hanover, New Hampshire, and the eastern tip of Long Island, where at least 100 cases have been reported in the last year.
Once you’ve been bitten, the tick can re-program your immune system to develop allergies to meat.
Read meat isn’t totally sugar-free. It contains a few protein-linked saccharides, including one called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or alpha-gal, for short. This means that the next time you eat meat from a mammal that produces this sugar (e.g. pork and beef), you may find yourself breaking out in massive hives or going into anaphylactic shock. This is what can happen if you have been bitten by the lone star tick
Scientists are now racing to trace the tick’s spread. It urgent to understand if the lone star tick is expanding into new territories, or if other species of ticks are now causing the allergy.
This particular meat allergy has been known since the ’90s when people reported they woke up people in the middle of the night after a big meal, sweating and breaking out in hives. Immunologist Thomas Platts-Mills says he knew about this odd symptoms but he didn’t give much thought until 2004, when he heard about another group of patients all suffering from the same symptoms.
This time, it wasn’t a plate of pork chops they shared; it was a new cancer drug called cetuximab.
Scientists discovered that people who lived in the southeast were 10 times more likely to report symptoms such as itching, swelling, and drops in blood pressure. This was quite strange, as you wouldn’t expect symptoms to be so area-specific.
After many years researchers discovered that about 80% of those who had meat allergy had been bitten by a tick. Scientists also discovered that tick bites led to a 20-fold increase in alpha-gal antibodies.
There is something in the tick’s saliva that hijacks humans’ immune systems, red-flagging alpha-gal, and triggers the massive release of histamines whenever red meat is consumed.
Researchers are still trying to find what that something is. It should be added that some people who get bitten by the ticks don’t develop the allergy either, making the cause even more difficult to find.
To find a cure for those who have been bitten by the “reverse zombie” tick scientists must learn more about it. It is important to understand why and how it spreads across USA.
The best way to ward off ticks is to wear insect repellents containing DEET or, for stronger protection, wearing permethrin. Permethrin is sprayed on clothes and protects against ticks for weeks after application, even after clothes are washed.