12 ON YOUR SIDE: Rare tick-borne meat allergy in children

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - Parents, take extra care while your young ones are outside this summer - U.Va doctors say a tick-borne meat allergy may now affect children.

We first brought you the story about a man with a mysterious illness, an allergy that almost killed him, traced to a tick bite.

The lone star tick can cause life-threatening allergic reactions if your child is bitten and then eats a hamburger or hot dog.

U.Va researchers tested 51 children, ages four to 17, who had a history of allergic reactions - like severe itching and trouble breathing - but unknown causes. Doctors found most kids in the study had tick bites within the past year.

"We are 99 percent sure now that it's ticks - and most certainly, dominantly the lone star," said U.Va medical professor Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, head of the division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Platts-Mills discovered the link after he was bitten numerous times hiking. The lone star tick, identified by the white spot on its back, is common in the southeast and is on the move, according to C.D.C. mapping.

So far, about 1,500 people have the mystery meat allergy, but now researchers believe the number is higher.

They found from tests that 45 of the children in the study had a certain anti-body in their blood called alpha-gal.

Researchers say spit from the tick provokes the immune system to make the anti-body in reaction to sugar in the meat. The next time the child or adult who's been bitten by a tick eats meat, a violent reaction occurs several hours later.

Emmanuel Spencer had a severe reaction after eating steak. He had been bitten by a tick six weeks earlier. The family found out about the unique meat allergy after Emmanuel nearly died.

"My throat is closing up, and telling her, pointing to my throat, I can't breath. I sit on the bed. It's just getting worst and worst," said Emmanuel.

His wife Tracie says he fell unconscious three times. She administered CPR And used her sons' epinephrine pens.

"After the Epi-pen shot, he tried to get up. He passed out again. My son is screaming at this point, 'My daddy's dying. My dad is dead. My dad just died.'"

To avoid anaphylactic shock, tick bite victims are not to eat beef, pork or lamb. Emmanuel calls it a life changer and has gladly given up red meat.

Doctors say the message for parents: if your child gets hives or trouble breathing without explanation, determine what they ate within the past three to six hours. If it was beef, lamb or pork, consult an allergist - because a tick bite may be the reason.

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