Ticked Off Meat Eaters
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The warm weather brings out two things: barbeque and ticks. But how are the two related? That�s what interesting; a person bitten by a lone star tick can develop a severe allergy to meat. We knew about Lyme disease, but meat allergy?!
This happens because some people bitten by the tick develop antibodies against a complex sugar called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, also known as alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is in all non-primate derived proteins, which means it�s in pork, beef, and lamb.
The main symptom is a hive-like rash, but some people develop life threatening anaphylactic shock. It takes four to six hours after eating meat for symptoms to show, so people don�t associate their rash with meat.
The allergy to alpha-gal was first discovered among cancer patients with an unusual sensitivity to the cancer drug cetuximab which also includes the alpha-gal molecule. These patients were almost exclusively from the southeastern US, where the lone star tick lives.
It�s still unclear what in tick saliva triggers this response. Ticks can latch to its host for days and transmit a variety of pathogens including viruses and bacteria. But tick saliva also contains molecules that influence a host�s blood coagulation, immune response, and angiogenesis which is the development of new blood vessels.
For all of us who love barbeque, the only way to avoid developing a meat allergy is to avoid tick bites. The downside is that the lone star tick�s territory may be continually expanding, but evidence suggests the allergy eventually goes away - as long as you don�t get any more tick bites!