Ticks have been making vegetarians of unwilling people in several states, as one tick species has been giving out meat allergies as a nasty side effect of its bite.
According to NBC, an insect called the Lone Star tick is to blame. When it bites a person, the Lone Star tick transmits a sugar called alpha-gal into a person’s bloodstream. Alpha-gal is also found in red meat and some dairy products, but it does not normally cause a problem for people when it is eaten in food. When delivered via tick bite, however, a person’s immune system can respond by attacking the sugar with antibodies. Sometimes that process can stick, and the body’s immune system will respond with an allergic reaction the next time the person consumes meat.
A sudden meat allergy can come as a huge surprise to a person who has been eating meat for his or her whole life, but some allergists say they’ve been seeing that happen a lot lately.
"I see two to three new cases every week," said Dr. Scott Commins of the University of Virginia to NBC.
Long Island allergist Dr. Erin McGintee told NBC she’s seen nearly 200 cases of meat allergies caused by tick bites over the past three years.
"It is bizarre," she said. "It goes against almost anything I've ever learned as an allergist."
A sudden meat allergy is a terrible side effect, and doctors are not certain if the effects are permanent. Some people have reportedly shown improvement over time, but a sudden and severe allergic reaction is enough to put many people off red meat forever.