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Lone Star Tick becoming more prevalent in Virginia; bites trigger red meat allergy

Published: May. 23, 2022 at 5:45 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - As people flock back outside, it’s always good to keep an eye out for ticks.

Now, one of the most common is the Lone Star tick. Those who get bitten often develop a strange and serious allergy.

Just one bite from the Lone Star tick is all it takes to end up with a serious allergy to red meat, known as Alpha-gal syndrome.

It’s a condition that baffles the experts studying it to this day.

“This allergy that goes with alpha-gal is completely different from everything we’ve seen before,” Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, a researcher and immunologist at UVA, said.

Dr. Platts-Mills actually discovered the link after he was bitten numerous times while hiking.

The Lone Star tick, identified by the white spot on its back, is popping up more frequently, but they’re difficult to see.

“The Lone Star tick is absolutely brilliant biting humans. The truth is they’re quite difficult to identify as a tick,” Dr. Platt-Mills said.

He says saliva from the tick provokes the immune system to make the anti-body in reaction to the sugar in the meat. So, the next time a person who was bitten by the tick eats red meat, a violent reaction occurs.

Many doctors misdiagnosed the condition for years because it takes hours for the allergic reaction to kick in the following consumption. It is also uncharacteristic of typical allergies because it is a reaction to a sugar rather than a protein.

“Patients get sensitized by tick bites. They’re allergic to a sugar, not to a protein, and when they eat meat, nothing happens for three hours,” Dr. Platts-Mills said. “Most of the cases have gone to see a doctor, and the doctor told them it can’t possibly be an allergy.”

Unlike Deer ticks, Lone Star ticks don’t leave a bullseye behind. It may appear to be a normal bug bite with some itching.

“You don’t think anything of it. As long as it doesn’t look like Lyme disease with the ring, it’s just a normal bug bite,” Jackson Boyd said. “Then you go a couple of months, and all of a sudden, you get a reaction from eating beef.”

Boyd learned he had the condition just a few hours after eating steak.

“You get hives, breathing gets hard, your heart rate goes up,” Boyd said.

With alpha-gal syndrome’s increasing prevalence, Dr. David Gaines with the Virginia Department of Health says VDH is working to make it a reportable condition and hopes to start tracking cases by the end of the year.

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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