I was talking to a young lady, Katie, at a turkey hunting event here in Virginia last weekend. “I’d sure like to have one of those burgers, but I can’t eat red meat,” she said.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah, I was working on an environmental project down in the Carolinas a few years ago, and got bitten by a tick. Soon after I ate a steak and got really sick. Long story short, an allergist did a test and found out the tick bite had caused me to become allergic to red meat. It’s terrible!”
A bite from the Lone Star tick can cause the alpha-gal allergy that Katie and thousands of other people have developed. In Katie’s case, while she can’t eat read meat anymore, she can still have chicken. But this allergy affects people in different ways. Some people with alpha-gal can’t eat any meat, including poultry. Others can be bitten by a tick, contract alpha-gal and never show symptoms or have any problems with it.
University of Virginia medical researchers discovered the meat allergy in 2006. While most allergic reactions to food occur immediately, symptoms of this tick-borne allergy typically show several hours after eating meat and include upset stomach, diarrhea and hives and itching. Symptoms can be mild to severe, and can vary from person to person.
You spend a lot of time outside during tick season April through September, and undoubtedly you’ve picked some of the devils off your body. If you suddenly show any of the symptoms mentioned, see your doctor and an allergist, who will perform tests to see if the meat allergy exists. Medical experts say there is no medication or treatment. Avoiding meat, including venison, is the only thing you can do.
A bit of good news: Experts say there is some evidence to suggest that as long as the patient is not re-bitten by a Lone Star tick, the allergy to meat may eventually go away, thought there is no certainty of that.
PREVENTING TICK BITES
To minimize the chances of contracting the meat allergy or, worse, Lyme disease, keep the ticks off! The CDC says the best way is to avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, but of course we can’t do that, in those areas is where we hunt turkeys and scout/hunt for deer later in the summer. But you can and should:
–Use a repellent that contains 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours.
–And/or treat clothing, boots and gear with a repellent containing 0.5% permethrin, which will remain protective through several wash cycles.
–Find and remove any ticks from your body as soon as possible. Shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within 2 hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
–Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror; parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
–Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats and day packs.
–Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
I offer one last thing. Wear calf-high boots every time you step into the woods to hunt or scout from now through September (picture below). I have always been a tick magnet, and turns out most of those buggers we’re crawling up my legs. Since I started wearing “tick boots” religiously a couple years ago, I have cut down by 75% the number of ticks I’ve plucked off me after a turkey hunt or summer deer scout. I will be reviewing 3 pair of good tick boots on the blog soon.