Tick bites have been known to cause red meat allergies

Tick bites have been known to cause red meat allergies

Very few people like bugs – especially ticks which have traditionally been associated with conditions such as Lyme disease, in countries such as America, for example.

But new research has revealed that there may be yet another reason to dislike them – they have also been linked to red meat allergy.

According to US researchers from the University of Virginia (often abbreviated to U.Va), a bite from a tick has been shown to cause allergic reactions to a sugar commonly known as alpha-gal, which is found in red meat.

The connection was made while U.Va allergy specialist Thomas Platts-Mills was investigating why some cancer patients had severe allergic reactions to the drug cetuximab in 2006. Subsequent tests revealed that they were allergic to alpha-gal, which is found in both the drug and red meat.

Interestingly, only the cancer patients who lived in the states where the ticks are found, had any allergic reaction. The same was true for non-cancer patients who lived in those geographical locations.

The allergic reactions to meat such as pork, lamb, or beef can be caused even in people who had no prior allergies to these foods.

Symptoms include painful stomach cramps, hives, breathing difficulties, and sometimes even death.

Reactions often start three to six hours after consumption of red meat, and often occur in the middle of the night.

According to the researchers, the symptoms are delayed – unlike most food allergies – because the alpha-gal substance is concentrated in animal fat, which takes several hours for the body to process.

Scott Commins, an allergy specialist at U.Va said in an interview published by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ): “We would have people routinely pull down their socks and show us these massive tick bites on their ankles.”

The research is based upon the lone star, a U.S.-based tick, although Sheryl Van Nunen, an allergy expert at North Shore Hospital in Sydney, Australia, linked red-meat allergies to bites of an Australian tick in the mid-2000s and presented her findings in 2007. She says she has since identified more than 400 such cases.

Despite the growing body of evidence and studies that is mounting up linking tick bites to allergies, researchers say that many people are still refusing to believe that there is an association.

Erin McGintee, a paediatric and adult allergist in East Hampton, N.Y, said she knows of more than 70 cases and sees several more each week. She told the WSJ: “It’s a huge problem out here. I’ve been trying to get the word out—but there are still a lot of people who don’t believe it.”

The research is still ongoing, and investigators at U.Va are unsure whether something in the natural saliva of all lone star ticks causes the reaction or whether the ticks are picking up a pathogen from other hosts and transferring it to humans. Nor have they definitively proven the link between tick bites and the symptoms.

But to date they have collected over 1,000 samples from people with antibodies to alpha-gal who have reported having a delayed reaction to the meat. Their studies have been funded by the National Institutes of Health, presented in allergy conferences and in a half-dozen medical-journal articles.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics last month, they describe 45 children with similar symptoms in allergy clinics in Virginia, meanwhile evidence of the association between red meat reactions and tick bites is mounting.

It is not currently known how much red meat needs to be consumed before an allergic reaction occurs because this changes from patient to patient. Nor do people necessarily need to eat red meat itself to have a reaction. Often symptoms can be triggered by eating foods with animal byproducts in them like chicken sausage in pork casing or sweets with gelatin in them.

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