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Red meat allergies caused by Lone Star tick on the rise

Doctors say more and more people are reporting that after being bitten by a Lone Star tick, they became allergic to red meat.

Ten years ago, there were just a few dozen known cases of the allergy, but "the range of the tick is expanding," Dr. Scott Commins told NPR, and he's "confident" there are now more than 5,000 cases in the U.S. Humans make a natural immune response to the alpha-gal sugar that animals produce in their bodies, and doctors are not sure what the Lone Star bite does to causes an alpha-gal allergy. "Whatever the tick is doing, it seems that it's a very potent awakener for our immune system to produce antibodies," Commins said. "And in this case, it's antibodies to this very particular sugar in red meat."

Lone Star ticks have been found in the Southeast, as well as New York, Minnesota, and Maine, and doctors say people who spend a lot of time outdoors need to protect themselves from the ticks. Once a person is diagnosed with an alpha-gal allergy, they are told to stop eating beef, lamb, and pork, and many who develop the allergy say they also have new issues with dairy. Laura Stirling, 51, told NPR that after being bitten by a tick, she ate pork sausage, and about six hours later she was covered in hives, had a stomachache, and felt lightheaded. She now has to avoid all meat and dairy. Commins said it is possible for people to get over the allergy, but "we need people to avoid additional tick bites for the allergic response to wane."