The blog headline might sound like a sci-fi movie title, but for hundreds of people who can not longer eat meat, this is not a movie script.
Ticks are not only a nuisance they are a health hazard. A tick bit in extreme cases can lead to death so it’s important to be aware of where ticks live, how to prevent bites and keep your yard as inhospitable as possible to them.
There are several different varieties of ticks here in New England with the most infamous being the deer tick Deer ticks can carry Lyme disease and this is why this tick has received so much press.
Over the past several years a tick we don’t hear about much in New England has been causing problems for people over the southeastern part of the United States. This tick, known as the ‘Lone Star Tick’ can cause an allergy to red meat to develop as result of a tick bite.
This is relatively new disease and as such it’s not completely understood exactly how the allergy starts. Scientists believe the tick has an alpha-gal sugar in its gut and introduces it as part of the allergic bite. Then Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies which are present in minute amounts in the body react to the sugar seeing it as an allergen. IgE binds to allergens and triggers the release of substances from mast cells that can cause inflammation. When IgE binds to mast cells, a cascade of allergic reaction can begin. This is when you have things like hives, trouble breathing, itchy and watery eyes and other allergy symptoms.
The red meat allergy is likely caused because red meat have the alpha-gal sugar and since after the tick bite your body sees this as an allergen, the next time you eat red meat you have an adverse reaction. Allergists don’t know if the problem is permanent or if it might decline overtime. One of the first science journal articles I could find on this was written back in 2011. There might be earlier mentions, but this hasn’t been around very long. You can read more about this here in an article in The Journal of Biosafety and Health Education.
Unlike other allergies which are almost immediate, the meat allergy takes several hours to take hold so you might not figure out right way why you are itchy, having trouble breathing or have watery eyes 6 hours after a steak meal.
Ticks can be avoided and there are products available to repel and kill them. Deet,which I personally don’t like using is effective in repelling the ticks. Products containing pyrethrum are also used to kill ticks. Your dog or cat’s flea and tick medicine might contain this substance. Pyrethurm is found in the Chrysanthemum plant, Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium.
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Prevention is the best medicine
Wear long pants if you are out walking in the woods. Ticks don’t like short hard surfaces like a worn path. If you go into the woods off trail, check yourself carefully when you get home. Have someone check your back as well. Keep the edges of your property free of piles of leaves and brush as this is where ticks love to hang out.
There are companies that spray for ticks and you will have to make a choice about whether you want to spend the money and have those chemicals in your yard. There are also other organic methods of controlling ticks on the market.
If you have an outdoor cat or dog be careful about letting them lie with you or in your bed. I have personally had ticks jump from the dog onto me in the middle of the night. It’s a very unpleasant experience to wake-up with a tick burrowing into your skin.
Ticks are most active in spring and again in fall so we are coming up on a time of the year when it’s really important to check for these nasty critters.
The tick is here and will likely continue spread. Unfortunately for those of us who love a filet mignon and baked potato dinner, this is not welcome news.