Tick-Borne Meat Allergy
Beware the Lone Star Tick!
Trail workers should take precautions against tick-borne meat allergy by avoiding, to the best extent possible, the Lone Star tick.
The bite of the lone star tick can cause a person to develop alpha-gal meat allergy, a delayed response to mammalian meat and meat products. The allergy causes anaphylaxis—a life-threatening allergic reaction characterized by constriction of the airway and a drop in blood pressure triggered by an antibody to mammalian oligosaccharide galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). This sugar is also found in cat dander and in patients taking cetuximab. Allergic reactions normally occur 3 – 6 hours after consuming red meat, making it difficult to identify what caused the reaction. Skin tests with standard meat test solutions are unreliable when testing for the allergy, whereas skin tests with raw meat and/or pork kidney are more sensitive. Specific tests to determine the allergy are available.
- Hives—a.k.a. Southern Tick-Associated Rash.
- Vomiting & diarrhea similar to food poisoning may occur a few hours after eating red meat.
- Fever & body aches, experienced after hiking in the woods, could be a sign of ehrlichiosis.
- Shortness of breath —If you have difficulty breathing after eating red meat, go to your local hospital emergency room.
- Skin Ulcers & swollen glands—Some develop tularemia, a bacterial infection that can spread to the lungs. Signs include:
- Ulcer at the site of the tick bite.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
- Ulcers in the mouth.
- Fever and sore throat.
- Chills experienced soon after consuming red meat indicate that you have been bitten by a Lone Star tick.
- Dizziness & blurred vision can be signs of dangerously low blood pressure.
See a doctor as soon as possible if you think you’ve been exposed to ticks and are exhibiting these symptoms.
What Is the Lone Star Tick?
The Lone Star tick is found in the Mid-Atlantic states, particularly in our region and along most of the Trail. This tick bites painlessly and commonly goes unnoticed, remaining attached to its host for as long as seven days until it is fully engorged with blood..
The tick follows the normal developmental stages of egg, larva, nymph, and adult. It is known as a three-host tick, meaning that it feeds from a different host during each of the larval, nymphal, and adult stages. The Lone Star tick attaches itself to a host by way of questing.
The Lone Star tick is widely distributed across the East, Southeast, and Midwest United States. It lives in wooded areas, particularly in second-growth forests with thick underbrush, where white-tailed deer—the primary host of mature ticks—reside. Lone Star ticks can also be found in grassland ecosystems.
The Lone Star tick attaches to a host by “questing”—the tick climbs up a blade of grass or to the edges of leaves and stretches its front legs forward, and mounts a host as it brushes against the tick’s legs. Once attached, the tick selects a feeding site.
The ticks are tiny and hard to spot. An adult female is about 1⁄6 of an inch long. A male is even smaller, and a nymph may be less than half that size. Bites are generally painless. People can become infected without being aware of having been bitten. Ticks generally crawl on a potential host for some time before beginning to feed and can be removed before becoming attached.
- Treat clothing with the insecticide Permethrin, which lasts through several washings (launder separately from untreated clothing).
- Apply insect repellant containing DEET to the skin and clothing. (Be sure to follow all directions for using products containing Permethrin or DEET.)
- Wear light-colored clothes that a dark, moving speck will be visible against.
- Long pants tucked into socks and long sleeved shirts tucked into pants provide the best protection.
- Inspect your body daily for several days after a field trip (look for “moving freckles”) and feel your scalp.
- If you find an attached tick, grasp it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and remove with a steady pull.
- Treat the area with antiseptic.