PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Health officials say a certain kind of tick that’s new to our area can cause a problem with foods like steaks and burgers.
Les Waters loves backyard barbecues and spending time in the woods at his lake house. But his time here has led to a dangerous allergy.
“I’m sure people wouldn’t believe it,” said Waters, whose red meat allergy was caused by a Lone Star tick.
Dr. George Belecanech of The Asthma Center in Philadelphia said, “It is the only tick bite that I know that does create a food allergy.”
Dr. Belecanech says there’s a protein in the saliva of the tick that’s also in red meat. A tick bite can cause some people to develop antibodies to that protein.
“And the individual’s immune system makes this allergic response to it,” the doctor explained.
Symptoms are like most other allergies, itching, hives, and even life-threatening breathing difficulty.
“It’s like full out scary,” Waters said. “It’s like your throat swells up; you can’t breathe; your blood pressure drops off; you black out, and then you have to hit it with an epipen.”
And unlike with other, more traditional food allergies that happen fast, symptoms of the tick-induced meat allergy can take six hours to show up, with most people not realizing the connection.
“They are surprised but often relieved to have an answer as to why they are having these horrible allergic events,” Dr. Belecanech said.
The ticks marked by a white dot on the back had been concentrated in the Southeast but have now spread north. And with them comes the strange allergy.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in the incidents of the meat allergy,” Dr. Belecanech said.
He also said the allergy is diagnosed with traditional allergy testing and the best way to avoid it is to protect yourself in grassy, wooded areas.
“I fish. I hunt. I’m in the woods a lot,” Waters explained. “Now, every time, I’ve got second thoughts about it.”
Doctors say its rare to develop a meat allergy from a Lone Star tick bite and they still don’t know why some people are more susceptible.