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Increase In Meat Allergies Due To Tick Bites

Louise Danzig, a 63-year-old retired nurse from Long Island, woke up with “very swollen hands that were on fire with itching” hours after eating a burger. She was losing the ability to speak and her airway quickly closing as she reached the phone to call for help. A blood test confirmed her meat allergy and her recent tick bites.

Georgette Simmons from Tennessee went to a steakhouse for a friend’s birthday, ordering a steak. “About 4:30 in the morning I woke up and my body was on fire. I was itching all over and I broke out in hives,” said Simmons. A few weeks later, she ordered another steak for her brother’s birthday. She woke up a few hours later with a constricted throat in addition to the hives. She too, recalled tick bites.

“Why would someone think they’re allergic to meat when they’ve been eating it their whole life?” Only in recent years has the surge in meat allergies been linked to the Lone Star tick reports to the Montreal Gazette. The tick is found throughout the South and the Eastern half of the United States. Other cases of meat allergies from other types of ticks have also been reported in Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Japan and Korea.

The bugs harbour a sugar that humans don’t have, call alpha-gal, which can also be found in red meat such as beef, pork, venison, rabbit and even in a few dairy products. When a tick bites, a response in the immune system is triggered. The human body perceives the sugar that is transmitted into the victim’s bloodstream and skin as a foreign substance and makes antibodies to it. This generates an allergic reaction the next time the person eats red meat and encounters the sugar.

Very few patients are aware of the risk and even some doctors are slow to recognize it. One allergist reports to have seen 200 cases on New York’s Long Island.