Tick bites can cause a number of infections and diseases. In recent years, doctors and patients alike have noted an increase in allergic reactions to red meat as a result of tick bites. Primarily caused by the Lone Star tick of the U.S. southeast region, allergists say that the range of the tick is expanding. Recent tick bites that have resulted in red meat allergies have occurred in the northeastern United States. Many doctors hypothesize that the Lone Star tick causes red meat allergies through injecting humans with alpha gal when they bite, a sugar produced in the bodies of animals. When a human is exposed to alpha gal, the immune system becomes triggered to produce antibodies that fight against the presence of this sugar, which explains the allergic reaction to red meat and dairy products.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction of this type often include hives, trouble breathing and/or swallowing, stomachaches, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues. Sometimes, the symptoms can present serious concerns and major lifestyle disruptions. If you have any of these symptoms after consuming red meat or dairy, see a specialist. Allergists can perform blood tests for alpha gal if you suspect you have been exposed. For many, allergic symptoms of this type can relax over time, and some patients have been able to eat red meat again following exposure. Doctors say that decreasing exposure to the Lone Star tick will help prevent sudden allergic symptoms and enable many patients to consume red meat and dairy again safely. However, most people must avoid infection in order for symptoms in current patients to wane in this way.
As always, prevention is the best remedy. When outdoors in the southeast and other potentially tick-infested areas, wear long sleeves and pants, use bug spray, and avoid brushing up against tall grasses and bushy foliage. When returning from outdoor excursions, check the body for ticks, which tend to burrow in warm, moist parts of the body such as the armpits and groin. Preventing tick bites to begin with is the easiest way to avoid potential allergic reactions to alpha gal.