Tick that makes people allergic to red meat is spreading in the US

lone star tick
Photo credit Getty Images
By , KCBS Radio

A tick that makes people allergic to red meat appears to be progressively spreading into new areas of the United States.

The lone star tick is known to transmit several diseases to humans, some of which can be deadly. But one of particular concern, especially to those who follow a carnivore diet, can cause a person to have allergic reactions to red meat for the rest of their life.

Growing evidence suggests that the bite from a lone star tick may trigger a condition known as alpha-gal syndrome, which can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction to red meat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If a person with AGS eats red meat, they could experience hives, swelling, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. More severe reactions may cause anaphylaxis and require urgent medical care. There's no treatment other than avoiding red meat and other products made from mammals, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The CDC notes that other tick species have been connected with the development of AGS in other countries and that more research is needed to understand the role ticks play in causing AGS. Nonetheless, anyone is vulnerable to AGS.

According to the Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania, the lone star tick was once only common in southern states but recently, the insect has been progressively spreading northward.

"They currently inhabit the entire eastern United States from Texas to Iowa and over to the coast," the lab says on its website. "Lone star ticks can be found as far north as Maine, but are still more common in southern areas."

The distribution, range, and abundance of the lone star tick have increased over the past 20-30 years, according to the CDC. Lone star ticks have been recorded in large numbers as far north as Maine and as far west as central Texas and Oklahoma.

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As for why the ticks are on the move, researchers point to changing climatic factors. Michael Raupp, an entomology professor at the University of Maryland, told The Washington Post that more ticks are surviving through the winter due to warmer temperatures, which also allows them to actively seek hosts for longer periods in the spring and fall.

As the number of ticks increase, human encounters with the insects will surely rise. Lone star ticks, distinguished by a white dot or "lone star" on their backs, are known to be more aggressive than other species of tick and will actively seek a host by sensing vibrations and carbon dioxide, according to the Tick Research Lab.

The best way to prevent a tick bite is to avoid exposure. Use bug spray, avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass, wear long clothing and walk in the center of trails. Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove the insect as soon as possible.

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