Venturing out into the green goodness of the great outdoors can lead to so many health-boosting benefits. For some, it’s a calming arena that can naturally treat anxiety; for others, it’s a Zen place to take a snooze. Still, spending quality time with Mother Nature is not all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it means coming across giant hogweed flowers with poisonous sap or—a growing threat to outdoor wanderers—being exposed to ticks that cause an allergy to red meat.
Before you head out on that summer hiking adventure, familiarize yourself the lone star tick, a pesky insect found in the Southeast, New York, Maine, and Minnesota, NPR reports. Unlike the black-legged tick that can cause Lyme disease by biting its host and transmitting the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, the lone star tick bite can lead to an unusual allergy to red meat. More specifically, it can induce an allergy to alpha gal, a sugar carbohydrate molecule found in the meat of mammals including cows, pigs, and lambs, and about 15 to 20 percent of those with the allergy also report a reaction to dairy.
The lone star tick bite can lead to an unusual allergy to red meat. More specifically, it can induce an allergy to alpha gal, a carbohydrate molecule found in the meat of mammals including cows, pigs, and lambs.
About a decade ago, Scott Commins, MD, PhD, was among the first docs to start tracking the allergy in tick-bite patients. Back then, there were fewer than 100 reported cases, but now, he confidently estimates the presence of more than 5,000 in the United States alone. Dr. Commins discovered via geographic mapping that the Rocky Mountains are a hot spot where outdoorsy adventurers experience post-hike fevers—another symptom of a lone star tick bite.
While scientists don’t yet know exactly how the tick bite leads to an alpha-gal allergy, Dr. Commins says one thing is for sure: “Whatever the tick is doing, it seems that it’s a very potent awakener for our immune system to produce antibodies. And in this case, it’s antibodies to this very particular sugar [alpha-gal] in red meat.”
To make sure your healthy summer barbecue plans aren’t hindered by a sudden aversion to meat, the CDC recommends treating your clothes and gear with 0.5 percent permethrin and spraying your exposed skin with EPA-registered insect repellants that contain “DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone.” Because, hey, is it really summer without Whole30-approved BBQ ribs?
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