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Meat Allergies Caused by Tick Bites Invite Vegetarian Cure

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Looks like red meat is joining dairy products, eggs, shellfish, wheat, and peanuts on the list of more commonly known food allergens, thanks to the lone star tick. Could your next burger take your breath away — literally?

Not a female CEO but a complex sugar, alpha-gal (or galactose-alpha 1,3-galactose0), which is found in both tick saliva and the cells of mammalian, non-primate meat, is responsible for the severe delayed-onset reaction. Common symptoms include swelling, painful and itchy hives, and anaphylactic shock, all beginning 3-6 hours after the consumption of red meat.

Popular author John Grisham, who first developed the allergy in 2002, has recently brought additional attention to the issue. It’s taken him years to figure out how to manage his allergy, but true avoidance of the offending cells is the only way. Grisham has said he could “easily be a vegetarian,” but continues to eat chicken in part because of how much he enjoys cooking at home with his wife. But when upwards of 9 billion chickens are already killed for their meat per year in the USA alone, that sort of consumption may not be sustainable.

Medical professionals have been delving into the most immediate question at hand: why now? Tick consumption of humans and human consumption of beef have both been around for years. But those of you already on the alert for Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever may have noticed that the tick population has been on the rise due to unseasonably warm weather. Working to combat climate change could be helpful in the long-term and meanwhile, those of us who spend any time in nature should keep up to date on tick prevention.

Avoiding ticks is one thing and avoiding meat is another, thanks to a carnistic viewpoint that also links consumption of red meat with masculinity. We may be happy to have peanut-free room at elementary schools, willing to help kids allergic to a legume, but referring to “brawny barbecuers” who feel “destroyed” without steak, as has ABC news, may cause some sufferers to try to tough it out rather than avoid burgers. But that attitude could be life threatening. In solidarity with those who might be struggling with meat allergies, raise your tongs and try bringing one of these meatless recipes to the grill.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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  • Mtkitty

    I’ve had ticks attach to me each of the last 20 years here in Fairfax county. I believe all were taken off within 24-30 hours so I never had any noticeable adverse effects. About 3 years ago,in the summer, I would not feel well after eating meat. Then I just got totally turned off by it and stopped eating it altogether. Now, maybe, I have a clue. Although the ticks aren’t any better, my ticker is.

  • ShoptobeGreen

    I have a friend who suffers from this. Not fun at all.

  • don miguelo

    “Alpha-Gal” sounds, ironically, like the name of a nemesis to “the Tick” superhero, don’t you think?!

  • James Mayor

    Anyone had a problem with milk products, as it is a mammalian derived product? I’ve been controlling my meat allergy by not eating any; however, recently I went a bit overboard (ice cream, Starbucks latte, some cake I later discovered had a lot of butter) and wound up in the ER again. Maybe almond or soy milk, huh? Let me know, please, if you’ve heard anything about milk being something to avoid. (jim@jamesmayor.com)

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