Food allergies are common, but it’s rare for one to develop due to an insect bite. However, a growing trend reveals that some people bitten by the Lone Star tick can develop a sudden and unusual allergy to red meat, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. This allergy can cause people to experience vomiting, cramps, difficulty breathing, and hives when consuming beef, lamb, pork, and goat, all classified as red meats. In severe cases, it can even lead to a life-threatening situation where the person stops breathing entirely.
The allergy, known as alpha-gal syndrome, is triggered by a sugar molecule called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or alpha-gal, found in the meat of mammals, except for primates. When the Lone Star tick bites a person, it injects alpha-gal into the bloodstream, and the immune system recognizes it as a foreign substance. As a result, the body produces antibodies to fight off the perceived threat. If the person later consumes red meat containing alpha-gal, their immune system reacts, causing an allergic response.
The severity of the allergy can vary from person to person. Some may experience mild symptoms, while others may have severe reactions that require immediate medical attention. For some individuals, the allergy fades over time, allowing them to eventually consume red meat again. However, for others, the allergy becomes a permanent part of their lives.
To minimize the risk of developing this allergy, people should take precautions when spending time outdoors in areas where Lone Star ticks are prevalent. This includes wearing long sleeves and pants, using insect repellent, and thoroughly checking for ticks after outdoor activities. If you suspect you have developed a red meat allergy, consult an allergist for testing and guidance on managing the condition.
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. (n.d.). Alpha-Gal Allergy. Retrieved from https://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/meat-allergy
Commins, S. P., & Platts-Mills, T. A. (2013). Tick bites and red meat allergy. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 13(4), 354-359. doi: 10.1097/ACI.0b013e3283630c8c