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Tick illness can leave some allergic to red meat

Posted August 28, 2019 9:11 p.m. EDT
Updated August 28, 2019 9:13 p.m. EDT

— When people think of tick-borne illnesses, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever come to mind.

But there's another one that's becoming much more common, and as odd as it sounds, it can trigger an almost instant allergy to red meat. Dean Cecil was diagnosed with the allergy in 2016 after he had a severe reaction.

"I used to love to grill out your hamburgers, your steaks, your ribs. Well those things are no longer on my menu," Cecil said.

Cecil was bit by a Lone Star tick. His allergy is so severe, he carries an EpiPen, and has to avoid pork and lamb as well as beef.

“It’s not entirely clear to scientists why a bite from the lone star tick causes an allergy to the carbohydrate, alpha-gal, found in red meat, or how common this is," said Catherine Roberts, a health editor with Consumer Reports. “But it’s important to note, it doesn't happen to everybody who is bitten.”

Lone star ticks are found mainly in the southeast, including here in North Carolina, but their habitats are spreading. They're one of four types of ticks that live in North Carolina. The most common is the black-legged tick which carries Lyme disease.

About 300,000 Americans develop Lyme each year. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is another condition.

To help keep ticks off, use an effective insect repellent. Consumer Reports said that's one that contains between 25 and 30 percent Deet.

“You’ll want to thoroughly check yourself and others for ticks after being outside, also shower soon after you come indoors,” Roberts said.

Roberts also said for extra protection, toss the clothing you wore outside into the dryer on high heat for ten minutes to kill ticks that might still be hanging on. If a tick bites you, use tweezers to grab it as close to its body as possible and pull straight upward. To dispose of it, Consumer Reports said put it alcohol, place it in a sealed bag, or flush it down the toilet.

If you experience flu-like symptoms, see a doctor right away.