A damaging immune response of the body to a substance, especially pollen, fur, a particular food, or dust, to which it has become hypersensitive refers to an allergy. However, in this matter a tick bite may have caused an allergic reaction to red meat. Catherine Roberts, Consumer Reports.org, reflects on the subject and how to protect yourself:
“Most of us worry about Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever when getting a tick bite. But now scientists say tick bites could give you an allergy to red meat.
That’s because the lone star tick—most prevalent in the southeastern U.S.—has been shown to cause an allergy to a carbohydrate known as alpha-gal, which is found in red meat.
Image courtesy of: Twiztedminds
A new study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests that a meat allergy caused by ticks may be more common than previously known, and that this tick-induced allergy could explain some previously unexplained cases of severe allergic reactions.
The study looked at just one allergy clinic in Tennessee, and found that in cases where they were able to pinpoint the cause, the alpha-gal allergy was behind about a third of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) cases seen there, making it the most common known cause of reactions they treated.
Study author Jay Lieberman, M.D., associate professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and vice chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Food Allergy Committee, is quick to point out that these results do not mean that a third of severe allergic reactions nationwide are due to the effects of lone star tick bites, or that alpha-gal is the number one cause of anaphylaxis in the country.
But lone star ticks are spreading—their habitat now extends from the Southeast almost all the way to the Canadian border—which means more people may encounter them. Scientists who study the alpha-gal allergy estimated back in 2013 that more than 5,000 people in the Southeast U.S. alone could have the allergy.
And Princess Ogbogu, M.D., division director of allergy and immunology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (who wasn’t involved with the new study), says that from what she’s seen in her practice, plenty of these allergies have likely gone undiagnosed—in part due to a lack of awareness about the allergy among patients and even many doctors.
So just how concerned should you be about this allergy, which, in the U.S., is only caused by the bite of a lone star tick? We spoke with the study authors and other experts to find out.
What the Study Found
In the new study, researchers with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center evaluated cases of anaphylaxis they’d handled between 2006 and 2016. They found 218 cases that met the definition of anaphylaxis—a constellation of symptoms that can include hives, swelling of the tongue and lips, trouble breathing, wheezing, abdominal cramping, vomiting, and low blood pressure.
Researchers performed allergy testing and evaluated people’s medical histories to determine the cause of the reaction, which they were able to do with reasonable certainty in 85 of the 218 cases.
Of those 85 cases, 28—or about 33 percent—were found to have been caused by the tick-bite-induced allergy to red meat. That’s more than were found to be caused by food allergies to peanuts, shellfish, or others.
Lieberman says the clinic has performed similar analyses in previous years, before the alpha-gal red meat allergy was discovered. In those earlier studies, doctors weren’t able to determine a cause for a greater percentage of anaphylaxis cases.
The data from the new study suggest that a significant number of those earlier cases with an unknown cause may actually have been due to this newly discovered allergy.
Understanding Meat Allergies
It’s not entirely clear to scientists why a bite from a tick can cause a person to develop an allergy to red meat, Lieberman says, or how common such an allergy is. And it doesn’t happen to everybody who’s bitten.”
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