If Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever weren't enough to scare you out of running through tall grass, now there's a new—and very strange—complication from tick bites to worry about. Doctors around the nation are reporting a rash of sudden-onset "meat allergies" due to tick bites. The reported reactions can be severe, with some people landing in the hospital after one bite of a hamburger. Really makes you re-think your next outdoor barbecue, doesn't it?
The culprit is the lone star tick, which carries a sugar called alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is found naturally in red meat and most people have no problems digesting it in its natural form, but when you're bitten by this particular tick, it can trigger an immune response that makes you sensitive to any food containing it. You wouldn't even know the reaction had been triggered until your next steak. Like other true allergies, meat allergy symptoms range from hives and nausea up to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition which requires immediate medical attention.
Lone star ticks, identified by the distinctive white spot on the backs of females, are found primarily in the south and east, but their territory seems to be increasing quickly as cases emerge all over the country. To stay safe from all kinds of ticks, the CDC recommends avoiding walking through heavily wooded places, thick brush, or dense foliage; using a bug spray containing DEET; and checking yourself and your pets thoroughly for ticks immediately after being outdoors.
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