A Bio-Bomb For Meat-Eaters? Tick, Tick, Tick …

After I went from a mostly vegetarian diet to a meat-based low-carb diet and saw my health improve, I swore I’d never swear off red meat. But … uh … (say it ain’t so, Joe) … a run-in with the wrong insect could apparently change all that:

A bug can turn you into a vegetarian, or at least make you swear off red meat. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in people bitten by a certain kind of tick.

A tick? You mean those nasty little critters who crawl up my legs while I’m playing disc golf or working around the property? Oh, no …

This bizarre problem was only discovered a few years ago but is growing as the ticks spread from the Southwest and the East to more parts of the United States. In some cases, eating a burger or a steak has landed people in the hospital with severe allergic reactions.

The culprit is the Lone Star tick, named for Texas, a state famous for meaty barbecues. The tick is now found throughout the South and the eastern half of the United States.

Well, maybe the anti-meat ticks are farther south and east than where I live. So if I just stay in my part of Tennessee …

In Mount Juliet near Nashville, Tennessee, 71-year-old Georgette Simmons went to a steakhouse on June 1 for a friend’s birthday and had a steak.

“About 4:30 in the morning I woke up and my body was on fire. I was itching all over and I broke out in hives. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before,” she said.

A few weeks later, for a brother’s birthday, she ordered another steak. Hours later she woke “almost hysterical” with a constricted throat in addition to hives and a burning sensation. She, too, recalled tick bites.

Mount Juliet?! Holy @#$%, that’s not only near Nashville, it’s north of where we live. So the demon ticks are already in our area.

At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, “I see two to three new cases every week,” said Dr. Scott Commins, who with a colleague, Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, published the first paper tying the tick to the illness in 2011.

One of the first cases they saw was a bow hunter who had eaten meat all his life but landed in the emergency department several times with allergic reactions after eating meat. More cases kept turning up in people who were outdoors a lot.

People who were outdoors a lot … gulp.

Here’s how it happens: The bugs harbor a sugar that humans don’t have, called alpha-gal. The sugar is also is found in red meat — beef, pork, venison, rabbit — and even some dairy products. It’s usually fine when people encounter it through food that gets digested.

But a tick bite triggers an immune system response, and in that high-alert state, the body perceives the sugar the tick transmitted to the victim’s bloodstream and skin as a foreign substance, and makes antibodies to it. That sets the stage for an allergic reaction the next time the person eats red meat and encounters the sugar.

A reader recently sent me a link to an article about a professor of bioethics who proposed making people allergic to meat to save the planet from climate change. Somebody should investigate and see if this little screwball has been messing around with ticks in his lab.

Doctors don’t know if the allergy is permanent.

Please, God, don’t let it be permanent.

Some patients show signs of declining antibodies over time, although those with severe reactions are understandably reluctant to risk eating meat again. Even poultry products such as turkey sausage sometimes contain meat byproducts and can trigger the allergy.

Michael Abley, who is 74 and lives in Surry, Virginia, near Williamsburg, comes from a family of cattle ranchers and grew up eating meat. He developed the meat allergy more than a decade ago, although it was only tied to the tick in more recent years.

“Normally I can eat a little bit of dairy,” he said, but some ice cream landed him in an emergency room about a month ago.

Okay, so if I get bit by one these little demons, all I’d have to do is give up beef, pork, dairy products, and perhaps poultry products. If you hear a scream loud enough to break windows in Georgia coming from Tennessee, you’ll know I got bit by a Lone Star tick.

Up to this point, I’ve been trying to be judicious in my use of Deep Woods Off before working outside. I believe I’ll start soaking myself with it. And washing my clothes in it. And using it for shampoo.


78 thoughts on “A Bio-Bomb For Meat-Eaters? Tick, Tick, Tick …

  1. Tom Welsh

    “…a professor of bioethics who proposed making people allergic to meat to save the planet from climate change”.

    This fits in perfectly with a long-standing principle of mine. Namely, those who talk about ethics are unfamiliar with the concept, and lack ethical instincts. (That’s why they need to think about the subject, whereas normal people rely on common decency). This applies in spades, of course, to a “professor of ethics”. If that phrase means anything at all, it probably denotes someone who devotes his (or her) time to subverting ethics. Just as lawyers…

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Naturally, the professor said he was talking about a voluntary program for people “addicted” to meat.

  2. Travis Jensen

    I was watching a video recently talking about how gluten gives everybody a leaky gut, not just people who are gluten intolerant. That makes me wonder: on the off chance you did get bit by this evil, demonic satan-spawn of a critter, if you weren’t eating gluten so you didn’t have a leaky gut, would you have the alergic reaction? In theory, the digestive enzymes would either break it down into something tolerable or you’d pass it on through.

    Maybe there is hope.

  3. Tatertot

    Well, if the tick misses you, and you continue your carnivorous ways…remember RS!

    Brand new: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140804100346.htm

    “Consumption of a type of starch that acts like fiber may help reduce colorectal cancer risk associated with a high red meat diet, according to a study. “Red meat and resistant starch have opposite effects on the colorectal cancer-promoting miRNAs, the miR-17-92 cluster,” said one researcher. “This finding supports consumption of resistant starch as a means of reducing the risk associated with a high red meat diet.”

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I take the resistant starch … but couldn’t I just beat the ticks to death with a cold potato?

          1. Boundless

            Once they’re hooked, it may already be too late, because they probably excrete an anticoagulant to keep the blood flowing (same problem with mosquitos).

            All but once this year, I’ve caught them still crawling. The next time I find one hooked, I’m going to hit it with a drop of tea tree oil and see if that prompts it to release on its own (plus it’s a great topical antiseptic).

              1. Dij

                Use a hot – not burning-matchstick or real warm knife under its back side and it should back out real quick….then you can do damage control. Tea tree after…or colloidal silver would help at the surface.

  4. Jason

    I also play a lot of disc golf and I’m not very good so I spend a lot of time in the underbrush and rough. I haven’t found any pesticide that keeps ticks off of me. I actually got bit by a lone star a couple of months back but she was only on me for a minute or two. I am vigilant about doing a thorough tick check every time I get back to the fairway.

    I also wonder if having the immune system of a goat helps? Would someone with a weakened immune system be more likely to develop this allergy?

  5. Andy Baird

    Oh well, if you get bitten you’ll just have to start breeding primates for for meat as they don’t have alpha-gal in their meat.

    Monkey Meat Loaf
    Baboon Burger
    Gibbon goulash

    As a bonus if we started farming them for meat they wouldn’t be endangered.

  6. Tatertot

    I know this will sound cliche’ coming from me, but I have it on good authority that the increase in Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are not the result of global warming, a booming tick population, or too many deer. These illnesses are a statement on the collective health of our guts and immune systems!

    Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia who can be traced back over 20 million years. All that is needed to prevent a Borrelia infection and Lyme Disease is a healthy immune system.

  7. Walter Bushell

    Not to worry about the Mount Juliet case particularly, beef in a steakhouse or in a supermarket can come from anywhere.

    Were this something everyone was susceptible to then it would be much more common. Mayhap this is for vegans who cheat and for people who seldom eat meat.

    Remember over 300 million American eat meat routinely and this is still very much a low incidence condition.

    And, of course, the vegans have a vested interest in spreading FUD.

  8. Craig Rich

    I’m wondering if this affects the fat from the meat as well. Since I’m mostly doing high fat, would rendered pork fat or beef tallow cause the same reaction? Granted, I’d be terribly upset to never taste meat again, but could you continue a high-fat diet? If not, this is a terrible epidemic. I’m with you Tom, bathing in any bug repellant is a must!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Hmmm … I don’t think just living on the fat is an option for me. I love the meaty parts.

  9. Elenor

    Read this:
    Enlightened intellectuals decided they knew best, and that metric could replace those displeasingly irrational, higgledy-piggledy systems of yore. To hell with any confused peasants who failed to adopt it. “To savants,” writes Marciano, “the fault lay not with the metric system but the people who refused to accept it. Any criticism — such as suggesting that the prefix system was too complicated for the average citizen — was met with harsh rebuke.” The elites were convinced that unified standards of measurement would promote smoother trade and bring the world together. And they weren’t wrong.
    thought of you! {wink} (http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/books/2014/08/john_marciano_s_whatever_happened_to_the_metric_system_reviewed.html)

    (Death to the metric system! Well, for general U.S. usages…)

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I remember being taught the metric system in grade school. We were told the U.S. was going to adopt it. No idea why that never happened.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Years ago I was on a road trip with paranoid Canadian comedian who insisted the U.S. proposed switching to the metric system to induce Canada to adopt it, thus causing Canada to waste billions of dollars while simultaneously making it more difficult to sell Canadian goods in America. This was among several interesting economic theories that prompted me to nickname him “Professor Woodbury.”

          1. Drew

            I don’t think we intentionally sabotaged Canada, but only because someone would have taken credit by now for the greatest prank ever pulled.

  10. Ben Fury

    I lived in the Angeles National Forest for 10 years where we had a huge tick problem. I had only one tick bite the whole time. The result of sitting eating lunch on the trail. It was hot and I’d untucked my shirt. Whoops! Sucker crawled up and bit me on the low back. Moral of the story? Tuck it in! Second big tip. Snake boots. Get the snake boots that are mid calf and tuck your pants into them. (I used to always buy Rocky but I hear quality control is slipping. Call Cabela’s for a current recommendation or read recent reviews.) Now there’s not one spot you can get a tick bite from your feet to your waist. Again, tuck that shirt in. Last tip. Inspect, inspect, inspect. When you get back to the house, strip and buddy inspect all over. Even if a tick has attached, you are likely to avoid significant fluid exchange if you get it off in the first hour or two of attachment.

      1. Drew

        Wear pantyhose under your jeans and boots. Supposed to keep tics off. If I were planning to spend significant time in the underbrush I’d seriously consider this.

  11. Joanna

    Sorry, that posted before completion – the story was that the lone star tick has been found in Illinois -and the writer was also horrified at the prospect of no red meat- said it made him want to go outside and “hug his weber grills”

    Travis comment makes sense about leaky gut possibly being a culprit, especially since the story I read said not all who are bitten develop the allergy

  12. Tek

    The other thing to consider is your farming practices. Guess what love to eat ticks? Fowl. Your moving your hens around on your property will really help keep the numbers down. Guinea fowl also love ticks.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That’s why we tried raising two flocks of guinea fowl, both of which were wiped out by coyotes in a matter of days. We do want to give the hens more room to roam.

  13. Vic

    One time last year I came in from my daily hike, did the “tick check” and found 14 of the little buggers. Not all attached but WOW! I went to the local big box store and bought some Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent. You hang your clothes on the line and spray them til they are wet and let them dry. The stuff last for 6 washings and will treat 2 full sets of clothes including socks. I never had another tick or chigger that year. I have done the same thing this year and as long as I wear the treated clothes I have no problems.

    1. Nick Young

      It happens a lot with people suffering seasonal allergies getting cross reactions when eating certain fruits and veggies. It is an issue with your immune system not discriminating between closely matching molecules that are found in both sources. I am very allergic to rag weed and my throat got scratchy and my lips feel inflamed sometimes when I eat certain apples. It used to be worse for a while when it first started which wasn’t until my late teens. I didn’t ever eat apples unless they were cooked for a very long time. It wasn’t until I stopped eating junk and happened to take the kids to an apple orchard that I finally tried them again and didn’t get a reaction. Now I eat several a week. Once in a while I still get a response but it is usually very faint.

  14. B35

    Part of me at first thought this was a joke, now I wish it was. I am pretty convinced that I would die or be servely handicapped from not being able to eat meat. I certainly am moving North.

  15. AussieKate

    The best thing to remove ticks is a Tick Card. Looks like a credit card with some slits in it. I have several but have never used them – yet. Apparently they remove the whole insect easily. If you want more info let me know. I bought mine in UK and some in Germany.

    No red meat – losing the will to live just thinking about it.

  16. Nate

    I would continue to consume meat to build a tolerance. Worked with other things I was allergic to. In fact, since having an overall diet change the only time my allergies flare up are when my immune system is already in a weakened state.

  17. NoGluten

    There’s a spray that can last on clothes for awhile. Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin 6 weeks or 6 washes.

  18. NoGluten

    Maybe other brands, I’ve used the Sawyer for travel in malaria areas. I think REI has this, also Amazon. Perhaps the co-op?

  19. Marc

    My protocol that kept me tick free ( and little ones) living in CT for 6 years and spending much time outdoors.

    Buy the family a couple of hard “lufas”. After bing outdoors, take of your clothes (kids clothes) and toss in the dryer on high heat for 20 mim.
    Give each other an inspection…..and this is where “ticky” (sorry) part comes in, the young ticks are SO small they are almost indiscernable to the nakes eye, and theyre fav spots are creases (nape of neck, armpit, back of knee etc).
    Head for the shower and scrub yorself with the lufa ( and your kids) .

    Tuis info was shared with me by one of the leading lyme disease researchers in that area.

    Worked for me.

    As to no more meat…..I guess real living nightmares do exist 🙂


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yeah, I’ve pulled off a couple of ticks that were so small, I almost didn’t spot them. Those are the ones that scare me.

      1. Nick Young

        We had one like that almost attach itself to our daughters eye lid when she was a baby. I thought it was a crumb fleck and brushed it away from a different spot then saw it a few minutes later under her eye and realized it had legs. Luckily it didn’t start burrowing yet and I was able to pull it off quick.

  20. Kristin

    In the Pacific NW we tend to think we don’t have ticks west of the Cascades. This post got me wondering because I thought I had heard of cases in the area. None of the nasty Lone Stars, at least yet. We can plan on dog ticks at least if we go to Eastern Oregon. But here? I found a nice page on ticks in my area and (gulp) they are on Dog Mountain, one of my very favorite hikes. I hike to the top and lay in the grass overlooking majestic views of the Columbia Gorge. You can bet I’ll be more careful from now on.


  21. Quinn

    Hi Tom,

    I don’t wish to appear pedantic, or too insufferably geeky, but tics are not insects; they are arachnids, a class of joint-legged invertebrates which all have eight legs, like spiders, which are also arachnids, which stems from a Greek word which means, oddly enough, “spider.”

    They’re nasty critters, best avoided.

    My apologies, but I had to know that for an exam in an invertebrate biology course I took 35 years ago, and until today, nearing the end of a 30-year career as a pharmaceutical chemist, I have had absolutely no need for that tidbit of information. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to justify the hours I spent studying for that exam!

  22. Chris

    My boss has had this condition for a couple of years now. He has to carry around an epi pen and has to be real careful about what he eats. He cannot eat fish that has been cooked in the same fryer as mean, for example.

    They are apparently working hard on a cure at UVA. I suspected this was a clever bit of genetic engineering from some PETA types.

  23. Drew

    There may be a cure on the horizon: http://mic.com/articles/97294/scientists-may-have-discovered-how-to-stop-your-peanut-allergies-for-good

    “After being fed a healthy dose of antibiotics, the mice were introduced to a solution containing Clostridia — the positive bacteria that naturally occurs in mammalian guts — and lo and behold, the mice’s sensitivity went away. They were no longer allergic.”

    The theory is that overuse of antibiotics in young children destroys beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is what causes food allergies. Reintroduce the bacteria and the food allergy goes away.


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