HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Backyard barbecues, hiking your favorite trail, even the simple joy of mowing your lawn: outdoor fun that might be cut short thanks to a common threat, hungry for your blood.
The Lone Star tick lives mostly in the Eastern and Southeastern United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and one bite from this tick could make you allergic to red meat.
That tick-borne illness is called Alpha-gal.
“This could be dangerous,” said News 3’s medical expert, Dr. Ryan Light. “Possibly altering your diet for the rest of your life, so it could be a very scary thing.”
Scientists say Alpha-gal is a carbohydrate found in red meat, like beef and pork. It is fine when digested normally, but when a Lone Star tick bites, the tick’s saliva can make you allergic to this Alpha-gal carbohydrate.
Symptoms can take one day to two months to fully kick in. However, once they do, every time a person with the Alpha-gal allergy eats red meat, he or she will experience at least some of the following symptoms: nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach and itching.
But you do not have to stay indoors to protect your love of red meat. To protect yourself from ticks, experts recommend wearing long, loose shirts, pants and boots when venturing out into the wilderness.
Light says the sooner you get the tick off of you, the better.
“Probably the best advice is to do a check of your body after you get out of the wilderness or when you cross into areas that are known for ticks,” said Light, who notes that a bite from a Lone Star tick does not necessarily mean you will automatically develop the Alpha-gal allergy.
Light says one to three percent of the population suffer from a red meat allergy, and there is currently no cure for the Alpha-gal allergy.
While sufferers are usually told to stay away from red meat, most chicken and fish are still fair game.