If there weren’t enough reasons to be totally terrified and grossed out by ticks (they drop on your head from the trees, they suck your blood, they burrow into your skin, they transmit a terrible disease you’ll never be fully rid of), the bite of a lone star tick can trigger allergies that mean eating a hamburger can lead to anaphylactic shock.
Helen Chappell writes in Discover Magazine about her experience with this relatively unknown danger, and her account is pretty dire:
Tick saliva is “a really good provocateur of an immune response, even outside of an infection,” Commins told me, though they are not yet sure whether it’s bacteria carried in tick saliva or the saliva itself that is responsible. But they believe that something in some ticks’ saliva stimulates the human immune system to produce antibodies to a sugar present in mammalian meat, though not poultry and fish, called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal for short). The next time an unsuspecting meat lover chows down on a hamburger, those antibodies could rally a systemic allergic reaction.
Except not right away. Maybe not until hours later.
You can have a steak for dinner and not know anything’s amiss until the middle of the night. Add to that the fact that different kinds of meats — or even different cuts of the same kind of meat — can cause more or less severe reactions, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion.
Now, normally, we’ll all in favor of people eating less meat, but no one should have to undergo a near-death experience to get to that place. Ugh, ticks!
- How a Tick Bite Made Me Allergic to Meat, Discover Magazine
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