The little bug causing a big scary meat allergy

It’s amazing what a huge impact a little bug bite can have on your health and your life…

Especially if it’s a tick bite.

If you develop America’s silent plague — chronic Lyme disease — for example, you could suffer from symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, brain fog, muscle pain, insomnia, neuropathy, depression, headaches and heart problems.

Of course, Lyme disease is far from the only disease transmitted by ticks. There’s also Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, Ehrlichia, Powassan disease, babesia and bartonella — all of which have their own set of life-altering symptoms.

But there’s one tick-borne disease that’s not only life-altering, it’s outright bizarre…

It’s called tick-induced mammalian meat allergy.  And, as the name suggests, it could keep you from enjoying a burger or steak any time soon…

What the heck is tick-induced mammalian meat allergy?

If you’ve never heard of tick-induced mammalian meat allergy, you’re not alone. That’s because it’s a relatively new phenomenon — the first reported case happened in 2007.

Since the disease is so new, there’s still a lot to learn about it. So far, scientists know that people who have been bitten by a tick in the last six months are developing meat allergies way more often than people who’ve never had a tick bite.

People who develop the allergy can’t eat meat without experiencing an allergic reaction a few hours later. That reaction could include symptoms like hives, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, headaches, a runny nose and sneezing. Some people even go into anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly.

But the allergy only seems to be triggered by meat that comes from mammals — cows, pigs, lamb, goats, etc. That means chicken and fish are okay to eat. But dairy products can trigger the allergy in some people too. And so can food additives derived from meat, like gelatin.

Scientists also know that this tick-borne meat allergy is spreading across the U.S. at a rapid pace…

In fact, the disease is growing fastest in the United States and Australia. That’s because two tick species that transmit the disease have booming populations in these countries — the Lone Star tick in the U.S. and the Australian paralysis tick in Australia. The disease has also been reported in Europe, Asia, Central America and Africa.

Of course, even with all this knowledge about tick-induced mammalian meat allergy, you may still be wondering one important question… how in the world can a tick bite lead to a food allergy?

Well, it’s all related to how your immune system responds to a tick bite…

In the case of mammalian meat allergy, a tick bite causes your immune system to create an allergy antibody that’s triggered by a carbohydrate found in the flesh of mammals known as galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). That means, every time you’re exposed to this carbohydrate, the allergy antibody releases histamines that produce allergy symptoms.

Protect yourself from tick-induced mammalian meat allergy

If you already have mammalian meat allergy, your safest option is to avoid meat that comes from mammals. Although, depending on how severe your allergy is, you may choose to eat meat on occasion. People who get a mild case of hives from eating meat, for example, may choose to eat a burger here and there, while people who have an anaphylactic reaction to meat need to avoid it at all costs.

But there is some good news…

Researchers suspect mammalian meat allergy could go away over time if you’re not exposed to any more tick bites. Other allergies have been known to go into remission over time, and there’s been at least one study where this has happened for people with tick-induced mammalian meat allergy too. But if you have a severe allergy, don’t test this theory out for yourself unless you’re working with a trusted health professional.

For the rest of us, prevention is the best medicine. That means you need to do everything you can to keep yourself from getting a tick bite in the first place. Start by:

  • Spraying yourself with a natural tick repellent before going outdoors. You can buy them online or in most health food stores.
  • Not walking through densely wooded areas with tall grasses.
  • Walking on marked trails and not venturing off into brushy areas.
  • Wearing light colored clothes so you can spot ticks right away.
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants to prevent ticks from attaching to your skin.
  • Doing a full-body tick check on yourself and your pets every time you’re outdoors.
  • Putting your clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes after spending time in tick-heavy areas.
  • Taking a shower after spending time in tick heavy areas.

And there’s one other important point to remember… not everyone who gets a tick bite develops this disease or any tick-borne disease, for that matter. A lot of it has to do with having a healthy immune system. So, do everything you can now to make sure your immune system is in tip-top shape. That way it can handle foreign invaders that come its way, tick-borne or otherwise.

Sources:
  1. “Chronic Lyme Disease.” LymeDisease.org. https://www.lymedisease.org. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  2. “Tickborne Diseases of the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  3. “Tick bites that trigger severe meat allergy on rise around the world.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  4. “Meat Allergy.” American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. http://acaai.org. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  5. van Nunen. “Tick-induced allergies: mammalian meat allergy, tick anaphylaxis and their significance.” Asia Pacific Allergy Journal. Jan 2015; 5(1): 3–16.
  6. “Alpha-Gal Basics.” Alpha-Gal Allergy Awareness. http://alpha-gal.org. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  7. “Preventing tick bites.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.