This Tick Makes You Allergic to Red Meat — and It’s Spreading in the U.S.

You probably know someone with a mild or more serious food allergy. You might even have one yourself. But it’s much harder to come across someone allergic to something as common and widely consumed — at least in the United States — as red meat.

Unfortunately, cases of tick-borne infections such as the one that can cause a red meat allergy aren’t as rare as they used to be.

A single bite from a lone star tick — just one of many types of the insect found in the U.S. — could force you to give up bacon, pork ribs, and hamburger meat, at least temporarily.

Find out how an insect often too small to detect without close inspection can suddenly make you allergic to red meat — and why scientists believe it’s spreading.

grilled beef steaks

Grilled beef steaks | iStock.com/Magone

How ticks are making people allergic to red meat

The idea that a tick can make you allergic to burgers, steak, and bacon seems bizarre. But scientifically, it makes a lot of sense. Not that science can make up for the lack of bacon in your life.

Sheep, cows, pigs, and other common meat sources have a certain type of carbohydrate in their bodies called an alpha-gal. When a tick bites one of these animals, they carry around this carbohydrate and introduce it into your body when they bite you.

Humans don’t have this carbohydrate naturally. But your body reacts to a tick bite the way it does following any injury or exposure to a threat. In some people, the autoimmune response that results after a tick bite can trigger an allergy to alpha-gal — and any red meat that contains it.

Lone star ticks are found most commonly in the southern United States. But experts theorize that disease-carrying ticks are spreading to new areas across the country due to rising temperatures.

It’s important to know the symptoms of an alpha-gal or red meat allergy so you can get treated. There are treatments available to relieve negative reactions to food allergies, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to enjoy meat with consequence again.

What are the symptoms of a red meat allergy?

A red meat allergy produces similar symptoms to other food allergies, and can vary from mild to life-threatening.

Red meat allergy symptoms might include:

  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Runny/Stuffy nose
  • Hives or skin rash
  • Stomach cramps or indigestion
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Asthma
  • Anaphylaxis

Seek medical attention immediately if you’re having trouble breathing or if other symptoms become severe.

Ticks carry more than just Lyme disease

Disease-carrying tick

Disease-carrying tick | nechaev-kon/Getty Images

When you hear or read about tick-borne infections, you’re most likely to hear about Lyme disease. But that’s just one of many diseases a tick can transmit to a human through a single bite.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ticks also carry:

  • Colorado tick fever
  • Heartland virus
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Bourbon virus
  • Babesiosis
  • Tularemia.

Your risk of developing any of these conditions varies depending on where you live in the U.S. Most diseases are treatable, but even more are preventable. Take these simple steps to prevent tick bites and possible infections.

If you suspect a tick has bitten you, get checked out sooner rather than later. Catching infections early often makes treatment more likely to be effective and shortens recovery time.

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