One Bite From This Common Tick Makes You Allergic To Red Meat For Life

Published June 22, 2017
Updated November 9, 2023

The Lone Star Tick's bite can make victims allergic to meat for life. And it's spreading across the United States.

Lone Star Tick Meat Allergy

Wikimedia CommonsLone Star tick.

The Lone Star tick is distinct for the star-shaped marking on its back. That, and for the fact that, if it bites you, you might not be able to truly enjoy a hamburger ever again.

This carnivore’s nightmare is caused by a sugar molecule known as Alpha-Gal (short for galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose). When someone is bitten by a Lone Star tick, the body’s immune system has to rewire itself in order to combat this newly introduced molecule.

“You’re walking through the woods, and that tick has had a meal of cow blood or mammal blood,” Cosby Stone, an allergy and immunology fellow at Vanderbilt University, told National Geographic. “The tick, carrying Alpha-Gal, bites you and activates your allergy immune system.”

In other words, your body has to create Alpha-Gal antibodies to fight the molecule. Unfortunately, this same molecule is also highly prevalent in red meat.

Many victims don’t realize what’s happened until the next time they eat meat — since the antibodies are most highly activated after the molecule has traveled through their gastrointestinal tract.

“Hours later, patients wake up with hives, shortness of breath, vomiting, and diarrhea,” Stone said. “Some patients have had to be given life support because their blood pressure is so low that they’re in eminent [sic] danger of dying.”

For a lot of people, it takes a few reactions before they realize meat is triggering the outbreaks. After all, they’ve eaten meat their entire lives and been totally fine.

Cases of these kinds of Lone Star tick bites are on the rise, spreading from the southeastern U.S. all the way up through New York and Minnesota. As of now, there’s no cure or vaccine.

Experts suggest guarding against Lone Star ticks the same way you protect against normal ticks: use lots of bug spray, wear long sleeves, and avoid high grass.

For those of you truly committed to a nice steak, though, you might want to just stay inside for awhile:

Next, learn about how female dragonflies play dead to avoid having sex. Then, see why scientists brought the tree lobster insect back from near extinction.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Kuroski, John. "One Bite From This Common Tick Makes You Allergic To Red Meat For Life.", June 22, 2017, Accessed April 23, 2024.