Fire ants could limit the spread of tick-related meat allergy

Fire ants could limit the spread of tick-related meat allergy
Imported fire ants are not native to the United States and are known for their aggressive behavior and ferocious sting. (Source: Virginia Tech)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - New research shows fire ants may be helping limit the spread of a meat allergy caused by ticks.

A bite from a lone star tick can cause some people to develop an allergic reaction to the alpha-gal sugar found in meat and other animal products.

More than 100 people in Roanoke and Lynchburg have developed this sensitivity to meat, Allergist Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills said.

Platts-Mills is part of a team of researchers at UVA Health who have been studying this allergy for more than a decade. In their latest report, they mapped out where they found the most cases

During their studies, they discovered places with fire ants, like Texas, don’t have very many, if any, reported cases of the meat allergy.

As the ants move northward, we could see fewer cases of the meat allergy in Virginia, but fire ants can cause severe allergic reactions of their own, including anaphylaxis.

“No, I don’t think that’s a good exchange at all. But I don’t think there’s much we can do about it,” Platts-Mills said. “I think we are simply watching what happens, I don’t think we can choose.”

Experts believe the fire ants are either attacking and eating the ticks or they’re driving away other animals that ticks use as hosts.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.