Ticks and Meat Allergies Share a Surprising Link

Researchers now believe that a tick bite can lead to the development of serious meat allergies.

Tick Bites and Meat Allergies

While most food allergies occur when the body launches an attack against the protein contained in the offending foods, tick meat allergies work differently, according to scientists affiliated with the University of Virginia. They decided to study the link between meat allergies and ticks after noticing that most people with a new onset of meat allergies had a tick bite in their history. What they discovered is that with tick-related meat allergy cases, the body produces antibodies not to the protein but to the sugars called alpha gal.

What's also highly unusual with such tick allergies is that there's a delay after eating the meat before the reaction occurs. In most cases of anaphylactic reactions, the symptoms set in immediately, or within just a few minutes. With tick-related meat allergies, though, the reaction can take up to six hours.

Exploring the Cause of Red Meat Allergy

Not all tick bites seem to trigger this reaction. The problem has been traced specifically to the bite of the lone star tick, which is a species that exists in Virginia where many cases of alpha gal seem to occur. Lone star ticks have an easily identifiable white spot on their backs.

What Makes Tick Bite Red Meat Allergies Unique

Scientists point out that unlike Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses, alpha gal reactions are an actual allergy and not a disease or condition that's passed on through the insect. They believe that the tick's saliva contains a substance that causes the victim's body to produce elevated antibodies to alpha gal, thereby causing the immune system to launch a full-scale attack on the substance.

Protecting Yourself Against a Meat Allergy

The best way to protect yourself against tick-related meat allergies is to avoid heavily wooded areas and other outdoor spaces where ticks frequent. When you do engage in outdoor activities, protect yourself by wearing long sleeves and pants and use an effective bug repellant. Be sure to check your skin and your hair before going indoors to be sure you haven't brought in any ticks home with you.

If you do get bitten by a lone star tick, always check with your doctor to find out if you could be at risk for a meat-related reaction. Try allergy testing if necessary to see if you are at risk for having a meat allergic reaction. If so, avoid red meat, pork, and lamb.

The good news is that some people with alpha gal meat allergies have found that their reaction lessens or even disappears over an extended period of time. The key is to avoid being bitten again by a lone star tick, since repeated exposure seems to reactive the problem. Before adding meat back into your diet, undergo a meat challenge under the close supervision of your doctor since tick-related meat allergies can be life threatening.




Moisse, Katie. "Allergic to Meat: Lone Star Tick May Make Vegetarians of Some." 20 June 2012. Web. 4 July 2012.

Smith, Olivia. "Ticks Causing Mysterious Meat Allergy." 20 June 2012. Web. 4 July 2012.

University of Virginia Magazine. "Research and Discovery: Ticked Off Carnivores." Fall 2011. Web. 4 July 2012.