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Can Some Tick Bites Cause an Allergy to Meat?

By Chris Williams on May 9, 2017.

There’s a new tick moving into New England and it comes with its own set of issues. In the last couple of years, the lone star tick which is primarily found in the southeastern U.S., has become much more common in Massachusetts, particularly Cape Cod. This tick has been the subject of a medical mystery.

Medical researchers and health agencies from around the world are becoming more concerned about a potentially deadly allergic reaction to red meat — a reaction that can cause symptoms ranging from rashes and hives to facial swelling, problems breathing, and in rare cases, even death. And it all seems to be triggered by a pesky bite from a tick, in the U.S., the lone star tick.

The Australian Study

The link between tick bites was first reported in 2007 in an online supplement to the Internal Medicine Journal, with a deeper, more comprehensive report published in The Medical Journal of Australia in 2009. In those reports, allergy doctors from a medical practice in Sydney, New South Wales, detailed the symptoms and experiences of a series of 25 patients who sought medical care between 2003 and 2007 for allergic reactions following a meal of red meat. The reactions ranged from moderate to severe, and included symptoms like rash and hives, facial and mouth swelling (angioedema), shortness of breath, fainting and breathing problems.

While most allergic reactions are associated with very specific types of food, these reactions occurred after ingesting different types of red meat, including beef, lamb, pork and wild game, leaving the doctors puzzled about the specific component that triggered the allergic reaction in the first place. Comprehensive allergy testing confirmed all the patients had an allergy to at least one type of red meat, with most having a reaction to several types.

Then, the doctors looked at the patients’ medical histories to try to uncover some common clue to the allergic reactions — and that’s when they discovered all of the patients had histories of severe reactions to tick bites. The doctors theorized the allergic reactions occurred after the special proteins in the ticks’ saliva caused the patients to become “super-sensitized” to red meat. Some of the patients had immediate reactions after eating red meat, while in others, it took days or even months for the reaction to occur.

Of course, just because researchers in Australia were the first to report the link between tick bites and red meat allergies, that doesn’t mean the allergies started there and then spread to the rest of the world. Nor does it mean the ticks that caused the allergic reactions in the Australian patients somehow traveled to other areas of the globe. Instead, what researchers have learned is that other ticks — including one tick that is  abundant here in the eastern U.S. — can and have caused similar allergic reactions. And while those reactions are rare, thanks to burgeoning populations of ticks, they’re becoming much more common.

Dietary Nightmare

What’s worse? It turns out the allergic reactions also seem to occur after eating byproducts from the animals that produce red meat – namely, gelatin and dairy products like milk, cheese, and butter. Products that contain these ingredients also can trigger a reaction, which means people who have the red meat allergy need to be extremely vigilant about the foods they eat.

And to make things more complicated, even non-red meat proteins and prepackaged foods like rice or pasta mixes can be contaminated by beef stock or similar products used during cooking or production. With such a high risk of contamination, many people who have the allergy have little choice but to prepare all their meals from scratch. It’s hard to imagine that all that havoc and disruption begins with just one pesky tick bite.

Be Proactive About Your Health — and Your Family’s Health, Too

The best way to prevent tick-borne allergic reactions and diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia, and anaplasmosis is to do all you can to avoid contact with ticks. At home, that means taking steps to get rid of the tiny critters — and the creatures that host them. For most of us, that means giving the heave-ho to populations of mice, chipmunks, or squirrels that have moved into the walls, attic, basement, or other areas of your home or property, which could be supporting huge numbers of blood-thirsty ticks.

Fortunately, at Colonial Pest, we have significant experience in ridding homes and businesses of all sorts of pests, including ticks and the rodents that ferry them around. If you have a pest problem in your home or property, we can help. And it all starts with a free quote and an on-site evaluation. Give us a call at 800-525-8084 or use our online form to request a consultation today.

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