Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
As if tick bites weren't horrible enough, getting bit by this one could also keep you from enjoying that summer barbecue. The tiny troublemaker, nicknamed the Lone Star tick, can cause serious red meat allergies — even for people who've never had problems with meat before. Now, the tick has been causing problems for an increasing number of meat eaters as it expands its territory over much of the eastern United States.
Discovered just a few years ago, the surprise reaction comes from a meat-induced sugar sensitivity. When the tick bites, it releases a sugar called alpha-gal (also an excellent band name). Because the tick bite itself provokes an immune response, the body is in a hypersensitive state when alpha-gal is introduced. So, your immune system will perceive the sugar as a foreign substance and start producing antibodies. However, alpha-gal is also found in red meats such as beef, pork, and lamb — which is why we can usually digest the sugar without any problems. But, after that immune response has been set into motion, one bite of burger might trigger allergic reactions — including hives, vomiting, and even potentially deadly anaphylaxis. What’s more, the reaction might be delayed up to six hours after chowing down, making it difficult to connect the tasty trigger and the subsequent trip to the bathroom and/or hospital.
The first study to identify the Lone Star tick as the culprit was published in 2011 and tracked three years' worth of patients' alpha-gal antibody data. The authors found that patients were more likely to have the antibody in parts of the U.S. where tick bites are frequent, and that past tick bites are common in patients with red meat allergies. Their evidence, and several follow-up studies, confirmed that Lone Star tick bites are to blame.
At this point, doctors don't know whether or not the allergy is permanent. So, depending on your dedication to paleo, this little tick might turn into a big problem.