BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A tick that can make people allergic to red meat called the lone star tick is becoming more common in Maryland.
“This one has become more common in our area, actually the past couple of years this is the most common tick we get into our tick-testing service for identification,” said Dr. Michael Raupp, A professor of entomology at the University of Maryland.
The lone star tick’s bite, named for a small white mark on its back, can cause alpha-gal syndrome, a life-long allergic reaction to red meat.
“I started breaking out every time I would eat hamburger,” Keith Tremel of Edgewater said.
Tremel was bit by a lone star tick about five years ago and was diagnosed with the allergy.
He can no longer eat pork or beef but that has not stopped him from taking part in one of his favorite pastimes, competitive barbecuing.
“I can’t taste the meat I’m turning into the judges, so I’m the back of my mind I’m always nervous I’m like what’s this going to be,” he said.
Dr. Lucas Carlson, an emergency physician at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital told WJZ that alpha-gal syndrome is a relatively new diagnosis.
He explained that lone star ticks obtain the carbohydrate that causes the meat allergy, called alpha-gal, by feeding on mammals.
If the tick later bites a human, it injects the carbohydrate into them and their immune system may respond to it.
“When it’s exposed to that carbohydrates molecule in the future, after eating meat, the person will develop an allergic reaction,” Carlson said.
The allergic reaction may only cause hives in some people but can be more severe in others, such as anaphylaxis.
Carlson recommends seeing a doctor if you think you may be having an allergic reaction, especially if you develop anaphylaxis.
Not every lone star tick carries the carbohydrate that causes the allergy, and Carlson said that most people who get bit by one will not become allergic to red meat.
“It’s still a relatively rare phenomenon to develop this meat allergy, even in response to a lone star tick,” he said.
While there is no cure for alpha-gal syndrome, Tremel said he is seeking the help of an acupuncturist, who claims their treatment would allow him to eat red meat again.