It is bad enough that ticks can cause Lyme disease in us and our pets. Some people, bitten by ticks, develop an allergy to red meat, even without coming down with Lyme disease. The allergic reactions usually occur three to six hours after consumption of beef, pork, or lamb. These reactions can be vomiting and abdominal cramps, hives, or severe breathing difficulties and can be triggered by a bite that happened weeks or months before eating red meat.
An allergy specialist at the University of Virginia discovered the allergy link to the Lone Star tick (so named not for Texas, but for the white spot on the female’s back) in 2007. The discovery was made in the course of research on cancer patients who were allergic to a certain drug. All had pre-existing antibodies to a common sugar, alpha-gal, found in the drug and in mammalian beef. However, only cancer patients from the southeastern tick belt states had the allergic reaction. Further research revealed antibodies for alpha-gal in non-cancerous, but tick-bitten subjects.
There is no conclusive proof that tick bites trigger the antibodies or whether something in the Lone Star tick’s saliva causes the reaction. Still, the evidence of delayed allergic reaction to meat has been gathered from 1,000 people by the UVA researchers, and cases continue to be reported. So far, there is no evidence that dogs experience the same allergic reaction. (Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2013)