Tick bite causes allergy to red meat

- The diagnosis can turn a meat-lover's world upside down. A bite from a tick can trigger an allergy to red meat. 

USF allergy expert Dr. Richard Lockey says the problem, caused by a lone star tick, starts with a carbohydrate called alpha-gal.

"A lone star tick injects [alpha-gal] into your skin, you become sensitized to it, just like you get allergic to penicillin. Now, when you eat red meats, you have a systemic allergic reaction," he explained.

Physicians first identified the allergy 10 years ago. Since then, cases of alpha-gal have risen to around 5,000 in the U.S.

Dr. Lockey says identification is still a problem.

"Doctors see a patient who has the symptoms and they say, 'Gosh, this doesn't make any sense, I can't really coordinate this with anything,'" Dr. Lockey continued.

Varying symptoms can include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and if it's bad enough, hives all over your body. 

As tick numbers increase with rising deer populations, there's fear more alpha-gal cases will appear. 

But there is hope for those who get the red meat allergies.

"If you stay away from red meats for a period of time -- five, seven, eight years -- a lot of this problem resolves," said Lockey.

It is just another reason to use caution and avoid tick bites. When going into the woods, make sure you have your pants fitted tight into your shoes, use DeET, and when you get home, do an inspection of your body.

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