Tick that gives people meat allergies may be spreading

At least 100 new cases of lone-star tick bites have been reported in the past year in northern U.S. locales, including Minnesota, New Hampshire, and eastern Long Island, New York.
By Mae Owen | Jun 20, 2017
Lyme disease isn't the only reason to beware of ticksa species known as the lone star tick causes the humans that it bites to have permanent allergies to meat. And according to researchers, the tick appears to be spreading its turf.

At least 100 new cases of lone-star tick bites have been reported in the past year in northern U.S. locales, including Minnesota, New Hampshire, and eastern Long Island, New York. This is significant, according to University of Virginia immunologist Thomas Platts-Mills, because the tick's traditional geographic spread has been limited to the southeastern United States.

Platts-Mills said that researchers are not certain that this one tick is to blame for the cases in the north; some hypothesize that other tick species are beginning to pass on the allergy to humans, as well. What they know for sure is that all human sufferers become prone to break out in itching, hives, stomach cramping, and sometimes difficulty breathing at the slightest taste of meat.

There is no known medical remedy for the allergy. And unlike most allergies, it is not affected by the victim's genetic makeup or environmental factors. The allergy strikes all bite victims alike.

"There's something really special about this tick," Jeff Wilson, an asthma, allergy, and immunology fellow in Platts-Mills' group, told Wired. "Just a few bites and you can render anyone really, really allergic."

Researchers think that the tick passes on an allergy specifically to protein-linked sugars such as alpha-gal, which red meat contains. Scott Commins, a University of North Carolina researcher, is running experiments with mice to find out whether the allergy's cause is a compound in the tick's saliva or if it is a virus or bacterium that the tick transmits to its human victims. Whatever it is, it hijacks the human immune system and triggers it to attack meat-based sugars like alpha-gal.

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