Health Team

Researchers: Tick bites linked to red meat allergy

Posted August 10, 2012 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated August 13, 2012 11:25 a.m. EDT

— Different types of ticks can transmit several diseases, but now Virginia researchers think one type of tick native to the Southeast may also trigger a food allergy. 

Lone star ticks, which are red in color and can grow to about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen, are known transmitters of Stari Disease, an illness to similar to Lyme diseas

New research shows that Lone Star tick bites may also trigger a meat allergy.

"It's all mammalian meats, so beef, pork, lamb and venison," Brian Vickery, of the University of North Carolina Hospitals allergy and immunology department, said. "We know that these individuals that react to meat have the allergic antibody IGE that is specific for sugar that's present on the meat."

Vickery says the instances of the food allergy are occurring in several southeastern states, including North Carolina. Unlike other food allergies that trigger immediate reactions, the studied cases of Lone Star tick bites causing the allergies often show up hours after a person has eaten red meat. 

"The allergic reaction take places hours after eating," Vickery said. "As many as three to six hours."

The reaction can include hives, an itchy rash, swelling of the lips, tongue and throat and even more severe reactions that can be fatal if untreated. 

"It clearly needs to be investigated more in detail, and ultimately, exactly what's going on may become more clear," Ed Breitschwerdt, of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said.

Breitschwerdt, who performs tests for tick-borne organisms, preaches prevention, recommending that outdoor-lovers avoid tall grass or areas of thick brush near the edges of woods. People should wear long pants and long sleeves with the ends taped over and also keep pets out of those areas. 

Tick repallant can also help prevent other tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. 

"I didn't follow any of that advice, and I managed to get a tick that gave me Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever," Breitschwerdt said. "So, I have a very personal experience with these tick-borne diseases."

If a tick does become attached to the skin, pull it off with tweezers, being sure to pull out the head. Keep it in a plastic bag or vial of alcohol and if symptoms develop, take the tick with you to the doctor to have it analyzed.