Cases of meat allergy caused by tick bite reported in NH
HANOVER — Most Granite Staters have encountered a tick at least once in their lifetime, but researchers say a meat allergy caused by a bite from a breed of tick found only in the southeast has recently been found in New Hampshire.
According to a report by Wired, a bite from the lone star tick causes people to develop an allergy to a protein-linked saccharide found in red meat called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or alpha-gal, for short.
Many people don't know they have developed the allergy until they eat read meat and begin to itch and develop hives, stomach cramps and — in severe cases — difficulty breathing, fainting and even death.
The alpha-gal allergy had only been reported in the southeast until recently when at least 100 cases had been reported in Hanover, as well as Duluth, Minnesota, and the eastern tip of Long Island, New York.
Now, scientists are trying to trace the spread of the allergy to determine if the lone star tick is on the move or if another breed of tick is causing the allergy.
Researchers from the University of Virginia determined that something in the tick’s saliva hijacks humans’ immune systems, causing it to red-flag alpha-gal, and trigger a massive release of histamines whenever red meat is consumed. But what exactly is in the saliva that causes this response has scientists stumped.
Some theories suggest that certain bioactive compounds in the tick's saliva could cause the allergy, while others suggest a bacteria or virus as the culprit or even residual proteins from the tick's previous blood meals.
Whatever the cause, researchers will continue to study the allergy closely, because they say so far alpha-gal syndrome seems to be the only allergy that can affect all people, regardless of their genetic makeup.
Researchers are currently trying to collect blood samples from every new case to determine if the lone star tick is spreading or if another breed of tick is to blame for cases in northern states.
Right now there's no cure — so bad news for meat lovers who get bit — but at least there's always veggie burgers.