Ticks Can Spread Allergy to Red Meat

By Lisa Raffensperger | June 11, 2013 5:01 pm

lone star ticks

We’re in the thick of tick season, and that tends to trigger mental associations with Lyme disease. But as the arachnids emerge this year, attention is also being paid to a rare allergy that ticks may be spreading, and it’s a carnivore’s worst nightmare: itchy hives every time you eat red meat.

The ticks implicated in the meat allergy are lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum)—a different species than the deer ticks which carry Lyme disease. Weeks or months after a bite from the ticks, people have reported a new allergy to beef, pork and lamb with a characteristic slow onset: while most food allergies would be felt instantly after eating, these meat allergies kick in three to six hours after a meal, often in the middle of the night.

map of lone star ticks range

Cases of the strange allergy were first reported at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 2007. Since then, allergy specialists Thomas Platts-Mills and Scott Commins have documented more than 1,000 cases, from Texas to Massachusetts, of people who report a delayed allergic reaction to red meat. These individuals all have elevated blood antibodies to alpha-gal, a sugar found in meat, and the researchers think the production of these antibodies is triggered by tick bites.

Small studies support this claim. In 2011 Platts-Mills and Commins reported that, after tick bites, antibodies to alpha-gal rose twenty-fold in three individuals after they experienced a first tick bite. (Samples of the individuals’ blood had been taken previously, and the participants self-reported tick bites.) In two of the three cases the ticks were identified as A. americanum.

This year, they reported that tick bites are strongly implicated as a cause of the allergy. However the bites don’t appear to be the only cause: not everyone’s who is bitten by the lone star tick develops the antibodies. In Pediatrics last month the scientists reported that 45 children in the Lynchburg, Va., area display the allergy as well as elevated alpha-gal antibodies; most reported being bitten by ticks within the past year.

“This tick is very aggressive,” Platts-Mills told NPR. “Its larval forms will bite humans, whereas none of the other American tick larvae will do that.”

Fortunately, the allergic reaction seems to fade after a few years, the Wall Street Journal reports, provided that the individual doesn’t get bitten again.

Images courtesy CDC

MORE ABOUT: allergy, ticks
  • Madison Ashdale

    As if Lyme’s Disease wasn’t enough, now we can get allergies from tick bites too?!? My family and I swear by Greenbug for People to keep ticks at bay. It is an all-natural, green bug spray that actually works on mosquitoes, ticks, and tons of other pests. It is safe for me to use on myself, my kids, and even my pets. Just google “Greenbug for People” to check it out.

  • Wings_42

    Not to worry. My wife and I enjoy our red meat free diet more than our old meat and potatoes diet. It’s far more varied, just as filling, actually more satisfying because of the variety, costs a bit less, and is healthier for us and mother earth.

    • Andrew Kiener


  • splashy79

    My allergy hasn’t faded, after 30 years. Everyone thought it was really weird back when it first started to be a problem for me.Now, not so much, which makes it much easier to avoid the red meat.

  • Lymebuster

    An allergy to meat is the least of our problems. We have people dying of opportunistic infections because their immune system is shot. Low IgG and IgA sub classes seem to be the norm as well as other immunological problems. The body can not destroy cancer cells if it is overwhelmed with all the pathogens of “lyme” disease. Brucella, Mycoplasmas, Q fever, and Chlamydias are but a few of our chronic infections. Borrelia is a bacterium out of science fiction and the greatest crime against humanity is that certain guidelines from the infectious disease society are considered with any respect whatsoever. We need research and we need it now before there are so many of us crippled or dead from these pathogens. 108 different kinds of bacteria have been found in ticks in Italy. Viruses, protozoans and other parasites and all the opportunistic infections round out the infection picture. We shall have a better understanding of chronic fatigue, ALS, MS, Myasthenia gravis, all autoimmune disease, Parkinsons, Lupus, when we figure out how to eradicate the myriad of tick borne infections. Time to fess up and tell the truth to the emerging world wide epidemic of people already infected. Not to mention the ones who have no idea as to what is causing their disparate symptoms.

    • AthenaBlakely

      Try having a child with a meat allergy and you will quickly learn just how serious it is. Many of the things listed on packages and “natural flavors” are made from or stabilized with various parts of animals. My 20 year old son has been allergic to meat since he was a baby. it has been extremely difficult to feed him any thing without calling the manufacturers and asking whether their “natural flavorings” use meat products. I also have to call pharmaceutical companies to be sure that they don’t use animal parts in the stabilizers for their drugs. If you don’t think an allergy is serious then you have no idea what it is like to see your child on a ventilator because of severe anaphylaxis. I do and I don’t wish that for anyone. You don’t understand how serious this can be.

  • Lymebuster

    Disease precautions for hunters

    View PDF

    This paper is intended to be a general guide about diseases
    that hunters and their hunting dogs may encounter. Links to additional
    information have been provided where appropriate. Hunters should always consult
    their physician if they are concerned they have been exposed to a disease or are
    showing symptoms of illness. If there are any concerns that your hunting dog or
    any other companion animal may have contracted any of these diseases, please
    contact your veterinarian.


    Protecting Hunters from Risk: Some Common
    Sense Guidelines



    Avian Influenza



    Campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter

    Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)


    Deer Parapoxvirus

    Hydatid Tapeworms (Echinococcosis)


    Equine Encephalitis Viruses

    Escherichia coli Infection (E.




    Lyme Disease (Lyme borreliosis)


    Q fever


    Raccoon Roundworm (Baylisascaris

    Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (tick-borne typhus
    fever) and other spotted fevers

    Salmonellosis (Salmonella

    Sarcoptic mange


    Trichinellosis (trichinosis)



    West Nile Virus

    Specific Risks Associated with International


    Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever

    Rift Valley Fever virus

    • Lymebuster

      Just a few pathogens and any fool can see that 14 days of doxycycline will do nothing to eradicate these infectious agents. Like a mosquito fart in a stiff wind….

      • Lymebuster

        If the raccoon roundworm gets into your CNS, there is no hope. But just listen to that IDSA and take two weeks or so of some doxycycline and your death is all in your head. Uh duh…I think they call that POST LYME SYNDROME.

        • Lymebuster

          Death from pancreatic cancer, all kinds of lymphoma, melanoma, Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia, Multiple Myeloma, fungal infections, pneumonia and we do not build any antibodies to 14 types of S pneu, reactivation of herpes viruses leading to those associated cancers.

  • Lymebuster

    Berl Munch Tierarztl Wochenschr. 2003 Jul-Aug;116(7-8):306-11.

    [Seroepidemiological studies of zoonotic infections in hunters in southeastern Austria–prevalences, risk factors, and preventive methods].

    [Article in German]

    Deutz A, Fuchs K, Schuller W, Nowotny N, Auer H, Aspöck H, Stünzner D, Kerbl U, Klement C, Köfer J.


    Fachabteilung 8C-Veterinärwesen, Universität Wien. armin.deutz@stmk.gv.at


    The aim of this study was to investigate the seroprevalences to zoonotic pathogens in hunters, to propose preventive measures and to obtain more information about the occurrence of zoonotic pathogens in local wild animal populations. From 146 male and 3 female hunters originating from the south-eastern Austrian federal states of Styria and Burgenland blood samples were taken and anamnestic data were obtained using a questionnaire. The serological investigations included the following viral, bacterial and parasitic zoonotic agents or zoonoses, respectively (antibody-seroprevalences in brackets): encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV, 15%), Puumala-Hantavirus (10%), Newcastle Disease virus (NDV, 4%), borreliosis (IgG 42%, IgM 7%), brucellosis (1%), chlamydiosis (3%), ehrlichiosis (IgG 15%, IgM 3%), leptospirosis (10%), tularaemia (3%), Q fever (0%), Echinococcus multilocularis/E. granulosus (5%/11%), toxocariasis (17%). Out of a control group of 50 persons (urban population, no hunters) only one person was found to be seropositive for Toxocara canis and NDV and four for EMCV, all other results were negative in the control group. The high seroprevalences especially to Borrelia burgdorferi s.l., Ehrlichia spp., Leptospira interrogans, E. granulosus, E. multilocularis, encephalomyocarditis virus and Puumala virus demonstrate that hunters are particularly exposed to zoonotic pathogens. It should also be noted that one hunter was seropositive for Brucella abortus and five exhibited antibodies to Francisella tularensis. In these cases, as well as in the cases of the 15 seropositives for Leptospira interrogans, the suspected source of infection may–besides rodents–also include wild boars and brown hares. The infections with NDV and Chlamydophila psittaci may be traced back to contact with certain species of birds (potential risk: aviaries). For Hantaviruses, rodents are considered to be the main source of human infections.

  • Lymebuster

    Metagenomic Profile of the Bacterial Communities Associated with Ixodes ricinus Ticks.

    Carpi G, Cagnacci F, Wittekindt NE, Zhao F, Qi J, Tomsho LP, Drautz DI, Rizzoli A, Schuster SC

    PLoS ONE 2011 10; 6 (10)

    Assessment of the microbial diversity residing in arthropod vectors of medical importance is crucial for monitoring endemic infections, for surveillance of newly emerging zoonotic pathogens, and for unraveling the associated bacteria within its host. The tick Ixodes ricinus is recognized as the primary European vector of disease-causing bacteria in humans. Despite I. ricinus being of great public health relevance, its microbial communities remain largely unexplored to date. Here we evaluate the pathogen-load and the microbiome in single adult I. ricinus by using 454- and Illumina-based metagenomic approaches. Genomic DNA-derived sequences were taxonomically profiled using a computational approach based on the BWA algorithm, allowing for the identification of known tick-borne pathogens at the strain level and the putative tick core microbiome. Additionally, we assessed and compared the bacterial taxonomic profile in nymphal and adult I. ricinus pools collected from two disti nct geographic regions in Northern Italy by means of V6-16S rRNA amplicon pyrosequencing and community based ecological analysis.

    A total of 108 genera belonging to representatives of all bacterial phyla were detected and a rapid qualitative assessment for pathogenic bacteria, such as Borrelia, Rickettsia and Candidatus Neoehrlichia, and for other bacteria with mutualistic relationship or undetermined function, such as Wolbachia and Rickettsiella, was possible.

    Interestingly, the ecological analysis revealed that the bacterial community structure differed between the examined geographic regions and tick life stages. This finding suggests that the environmental context (abiotic and biotic factors) and host-selection behaviors affect their microbiome.
    Our data provide the most complete picture to date of the bacterial communities present within I. ricinus under natural conditions by using high-throughput sequencing technologies. This study further demonstrates a novel detection strategy for the microbiomes of arthropod vectors in the context of epidemiological and ecological studies

  • blueiiris

    2006 I had first anaphylaxis, unaware at the time it was from beef. Delayed onset makes this hard to diagnose. 2009 I found Drs Platt-Mills and Commins research – the first time I could make sense of my condition. In correspondence they confirmed my case followed the pattern they had uncovered.

    Jan 2013 I took the new commercial alpha gal IGE tests. 7 yrs from onset, with no further tick bites, tests returned high levels of IGE for alpha gal, lamb, beef and pork.

    So It is not certain this condition “fdes after a few years” in all cases.

    The other anomaly in my case is that I live in rural Oregon. I have never visited the Southeastern USA. All my tick bites were here in my home area; 3 tick bites in the years leading up to the allergy onset. There should be no Lone Stars in my area, and ticks I’ve removed looked like deer ticks.

    I’d like to see research on the distribution of this condition, as my case indicates it may not be limited to Lone Star ticks in the US Southeast.

    • AthenaBlakely

      You are absolutely right about it not fading completely.


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