Just when you thought the worst thing that could happen to a card-carrying Foodie was a gluten (or dairy) intolerance – bread and cheese-lovers will back me on this – now it seems there's an epidemic of meat allergy sweeping the country. Caused by what, you might ask? Ticks.
And the vegetarian crowd roooooaaaars! The rest of us . . . not so much.
According to The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) it took a while for allergists to figure it out, but it turns out that the most common cause is a Lone Star tick bite, although other ticks may be involved. Lone Star ticks live across the U.S., including Minnesota. You can identify the adult female Lone Star tick by a distinct white spot in the very middle of her back.
Science Daily concurred, saying Vanderbilt University's Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program (A.S.A.P.) clinic is seeing one or more new cases each week of patients allergic to the alpha-gal sugar present in red meat, according to Robert Valet, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine.
"It is not completely understood exactly how the allergy starts," Valet said. "The thought is that the tick has the alpha-gal sugar in its gut and introduces it as part of the allergic bite and that causes the production of the allergy antibody that then cross-reacts to the meat," he said.
Strangely, the allergy can develop even years after exposure, and can result in reactions to beef, lamb, pork, or meat from any other mammal – even whale and seal. Similar allergies include poultry allergy, such as chicken, turkey, and duck. There is also a correlation between allergies to both milk, and beef, so if you are allergic to one, you may want to be tested for the other.
The symptoms of meat allergy can range from mild to severe, and may include:
Hives or skin rash
Nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea
Be aware, in some cases, a potentially fatal allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis may occur four-six hours after eating red meat.
It's important, if you suspect a meat allergy, to consult with an allergist who can evaluate your medical history and conduct tests (including an oral food challenge) prior to providing a diagnosis. Obviously, if you have an allergy, you will need to avoid the offending meat or poultry, but you may also need to carry medication, such as epinephrine auto-injector and antihistamines, based on your doctor's recommendations.
Dr. Valet states that it is important to note that while antihistamine may relieve some allergic symptoms, it is not an appropriate substitute for epinephrine, which is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that ticks are most active during April through September, but it's a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round. The CDC suggests you can help protect yourself by doing the following:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
- Repel Ticks with DEET or Permethrin
- Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
- Other repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be found at http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/.External Web Site Icon
To find and remove ticks from your body, the CDC recommends you
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.
- Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks. (Some research suggests that shorter drying times may also be effective, particularly if the clothing is not wet.)