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.

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

  1. 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!

    Reply
  2. 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!

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply

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