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A tick bite that makes you a vegetarian

"I have a lot of patients who have this who are very meat eaters and are not very happy with me, but they know when they eat meat they will have the symptoms," said Dr. Selina Gierer.
By Brooks Hays   |   Aug. 7, 2014 at 6:12 PM
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Aug. 7 (UPI) -- As ticks from the South and the East invade other parts of the country, more and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of the little blood suckers' bites. And its not just the obvious ones. In addition to Lyme disease, the Heartland virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Powassan, and a handful of other diseases, doctors now say tick bites can also induce an allergy to red meat.

The peculiar reaction has been linked to the Lone Star tick, which is named for Texas but is present throughout the Southeast. Similar allergy cases have also been reported in conjunction with bites from different ticks in Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Japan and Korea.

Doctors say it happens because ticks carry a range of bioactive compounds in its saliva, one of which is a blood sugar called alpha-gal -- one that is present in many non-primate mammals, but not in humans. It's also present in red meat, including beef, pork, venison, and rabbit. When it's ingested, the body doesn't react. But when alpha-gal makes its way into the blood stream via a tick bite, the human immune system reacts by building antibodies to the foreign sugar.

Once this happens, the body is ready and waiting to attack the next time alpha-gal appears. The antibodies can also cause a number of allergic reactions when a person eats red meat, including hives, rash, overheating and a tight throat.

Doctors in the South and Midwest say they're seeing more and more of the phenomenon. And for the moment, there's only one solution: no more red meat.

"I have a lot of patients who have this who are very meat eaters and are not very happy with me, but they know when they eat meat they will have the symptoms," Dr. Selina Gierer told Kansas City new station KSHB.

Gierer says a couple trips to the emergency room is usually enough to make anyone stick to chicken and fish.

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