ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Tick bites can cause all sorts of diseases from Lymes to rocky mountain spotted fever. But did you know one type of tick can also bring on food allergies?

It might look harmless, but one bite from this little bug could change your whole life. If it attaches, the lone-star tick can trigger a severe allergic reaction to mammal meat such as beef, pork, and lamb.

Robert Valet, MD, Allergist/Immunologist, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine says, “This is really the first example of a food allergy being driven by an exposure to something else like an insect bite.”

People with the allergy may develop hives, swelling, wheezing, diarrhea, or life-threatening anaphylaxis when they eat red meat. Symptoms usually begin a few hours after exposure and the allergy appears to be a life-long problem for most. It happens because the tick bite causes some people to develop a strong immune response to a sugar molecule called alpha-gal which is found in the tick bite and red meat. 

Dr. Valet explains, “So, patients become sensitized by the tick bite and then later when they eat red meat can have an allergic reaction.”

Though the lone star tick is most common in southern regions, its territory is expanding to areas in the midwest and northeast – in part due to global warming. Ticks thrive in warm and humid conditions and can cause a number of other illnesses. The CDC estimates that between 2004 and 2019, the number of tick-borne diseases in the US more than doubled. Experts say prevention measures are your best defense.

“Long clothing, insect repellent, look for ticks. If you see them get them off.”, says Dr. Valet.

Valet says that about 30 percent of the patients with the meat allergy will also experience problems tolerating dairy. But those with the allergy can still eat chicken and fish.

Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Producer; Bob Walko, Editor.