10 Facts About Lone Star Ticks & Their Bites, Which Can Make You Allergic To Meat
There are plenty of great things about the summer months, but one of the worst has to be the increase in bugs. While some are just annoying and obnoxious, others can be legitimately harmful, like mosquitoes that can easily spread and transmit deadly viruses, and ticks that can spread rare diseases. Ticks are especially tricky to avoid, as they are super tiny, hard to notice, and very sneaky. You probably already know that ticks spread Lyme disease, an incurable illness that can result in a whole bunch of unpleasant side effects. That's not all they spread, though. There's one kind of tick on the rise that can give you an allergy to something you might enjoy eating every day: meat. There are some things you definitely need to know about the tick bites that make you allergic to meat in order to try to prevent it from getting to you.
Now, yes, this side effect to a bug bite sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie... but unfortunately, it's very real. The bug that can cause you to become allergic to all kinds of meat is called a Lone star tick, and it can be found in a pretty large portion of the United States. While scientists know a little about lone star ticks, they still don't know everything, and that can be unnerving. Still, it's important to know as much as you can about these little bugs in order to keep yourself safe from them. Check out some facts about lone star ticks so that you can keep yourself fully informed:
1. They Are More Aggressive Than Other Types Of Ticks
Most ticks are a little lazy — they hang out and wait for a host to come to them, then attach themselves on there for a meal. Lone star ticks are different. They are the most aggressive ticks known to man, and they actively seek out a host. This makes them much more difficult to avoid.
2. Lone Star Ticks Are Found In A Big Portion Of The United States
If you couldn't guess from the name, lone star ticks originated in Texas, which is where they are most common. This certainly isn't the only place you can find them, though. They are all over the eastern half of the United States, down from Florida and the south west, all the way up to Maine.
Lone star ticks, like most other ticks, prefer wooded areas and fields. They like warm, humid climates as well. They are almost always found outside, although they can be brought into a house by a pet. They are usually found in wooded areas or near ponds where animals drink.
3. They Don't Spread Lyme Disease
4. Their Name Comes From Their Appearance
The name "lone star" comes from where the tick originates, but it also comes from their appearance. Lone star ticks look like tiny crabs, with round, fat bodies, eight short legs, and a hard shell. If they are female and are carrying or ready to lay eggs, they will look more swollen. While they only grow to be about an inch long, often less than that, they have sharp teeth to penetrate the skin.
It's their back that gave them their name: there is one single white spot on their back, like a lone star.
5. Their Bite Causes A Rash
Again, lone star ticks don't spread Lyme disease, but they do cause a nasty rash. If you are bitten by a lone star tick, you'll notice a red rash on your skin. This is called Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, also known as STARI. It has symptoms that are similar to Lyme disease, but it's very different. The rash has a bulls-eye effect, with a large red outer ring and a white inside with a dot where the bite was.
6. The Meat Allergy Doesn't Cause A Typical Allergic Reaction
One of the things that confuses researchers about the meat allergy is that it's different from other allergies. Dr. Scott Commins, an associate professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology, allergy & immunology at the Thurston Research Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told USA Today, "It's not the classic 'my throat is closing when I eat peanut butter reaction. These [patients] would get hives and talk about G.I. distress, or needing to go to the bathroom, and itching and swelling. Some would have to go to the ER to get treated." Of course, the reaction can be different for everyone.
7. The Allergy Comes From Something Called Alpha-gal
According to Esquire, researchers believe that something in the saliva of the lone star tick is triggering an allergy to the sugar molecule galactose-alpha-1,30-galactose (ALA alpha-gal), which is found in red meat. The meat allergy comes from the immune system's reaction to alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is in most mammals, but humans don't make it on our own.
According to Forbes, "human immune systems are primed to see any alpha-gal in the bloodstream as an invader. When immune systems want to fend off an invader, what they do is make antibodies. Antibodies are big, Y-shaped proteins designed to neutralize microscopic threats. There are several different types of antibodies, but the antibody that’s thought to be behind this meat allergy is called Immunoglobulin E."
8. Anyone Is Susceptible To The Meat Allergy
Usually, an allergy is a result of a mix of genes and environmental factors — but not this one caused by the lone star tick. Researchers are struggling to figure out exactly why the lone star ticks makes anyone susceptible to the allergy. Jeff Wilson, an asthma, allergy, and immunology fellow in a research group, told Wired, "There’s something really special about this tick. Just a few bites and you can render anyone really, really allergic."
9. The Allergy Will Last Forever
The meat allergy from the lone star tick bite isn't something that will go away with time - it's going to last forever. Well, unless scientists can figure out a cure, of course, which they haven't so far. They aren't very close, either. The discovery that these bugs can cause a meat allergy is still relatively new, and again, researchers don't know enough to know how to treat it.
10. Lone Star Tick Bites Can Result In Paralysis
According to Pest Net, "this species of tick injects saliva into the wound to anesthetize the area. This can spread through the body and result in paralysis." This is a far more terrifying thought than not being able to eat meat the rest of your life. According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, "Unlike Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis, which are caused by the systemic proliferation and expansion of parasites in their hosts long after the offending tick is gone, tick paralysis is chemically induced by the tick and can therefore continue only in its presence. Once the tick is removed, symptoms usually diminish rapidly. However, in some cases, profound paralysis can develop and even become fatal before anyone becomes aware of a tick’s presence."