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Bad bite: A tick can make you allergic to red meat

  • In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Louise Danzig, of Montauk, N.Y., stands in a field in East Hampton, N.Y., that is home to deer that may carry ticks that cause people to develop allergic reactions to red meat. Danzig landed in the hospital last summer after a tick bite caused her to go into anaphylactic shock from eating a hamburger. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)

    In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Louise Danzig, of Montauk, N.Y., stands in a field in East Hampton, N.Y., that is home to deer that may carry ticks that cause people to develop allergic reactions to red meat. Danzig landed in the hospital last summer after a tick bite caused her to go into anaphylactic shock from eating a hamburger. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)

  • This undated photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a Lone Star tick. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden red-meat allergies in people bitten by the tick. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, James Gathany)

    This undated photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a Lone Star tick. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden red-meat allergies in people bitten by the tick. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, James Gathany)

  • In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Louise Danzig, of Montauk, N.Y., left, discusses with Dr. Erin McGintee her progress after Danzig landed in the hospital because a tick bite gave her a severe allergic reaction to eating a burger last summer in East Hampton, N.Y. McGintee, an allergist, has seen nearly 200 cases where a bite by a Lone Star tick has triggered patients' immune systems to build antibodies against a certain sugar found in red meat. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)

    In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Louise Danzig, of Montauk, N.Y., left, discusses with Dr. Erin McGintee her progress after Danzig landed in the hospital because a tick bite gave her a severe allergic reaction to eating a burger last summer in East Hampton, N.Y. McGintee, an allergist, has seen nearly 200 cases where a bite by a Lone Star tick has triggered patients' immune systems to build antibodies against a certain sugar found in red meat. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)

  • In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Dr. Erin McGintee talks during an interview at her East Hampton, N.Y., office about the nearly 200 patients she has seen who have developed allergic reactions to red meat after being bitten by Lone Star ticks. The tick, whose bite causes the immune system to build antibodies against a certain sugar in red meat, is found throughout the southwest and eastern parts of the United States and abroad. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)

    In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Dr. Erin McGintee talks during an interview at her East Hampton, N.Y., office about the nearly 200 patients she has seen who have developed allergic reactions to red meat after being bitten by Lone Star ticks. The tick, whose bite causes the immune system to build antibodies against a certain sugar in red meat, is found throughout the southwest and eastern parts of the United States and abroad. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)

  • In this July 31, 2014 photo, Dr. Colin Brammer, an entomologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, displays a lone star tick in a lab in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

    In this July 31, 2014 photo, Dr. Colin Brammer, an entomologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, displays a lone star tick in a lab in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

  • In this July 31, 2014 photo, a lone star tick is displayed on a monitor in a lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S.  (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

    In this July 31, 2014 photo, a lone star tick is displayed on a monitor in a lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

  • This July 31, 2014 photo shows a lone star tick sits under a microscope in a lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S.  (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

    This July 31, 2014 photo shows a lone star tick sits under a microscope in a lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

  • In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Louise Danzig, of Montauk, N.Y., stands in a field in East Hampton, N.Y., that is home to deer that may carry ticks that cause people to develop allergic reactions to red meat. Danzig landed in the hospital last summer after a tick bite caused her to go into anaphylactic shock from eating a hamburger. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)
  • This undated photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a Lone Star tick. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden red-meat allergies in people bitten by the tick. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, James Gathany)
  • In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Louise Danzig, of Montauk, N.Y., left, discusses with Dr. Erin McGintee her progress after Danzig landed in the hospital because a tick bite gave her a severe allergic reaction to eating a burger last summer in East Hampton, N.Y. McGintee, an allergist, has seen nearly 200 cases where a bite by a Lone Star tick has triggered patients' immune systems to build antibodies against a certain sugar found in red meat. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)
  • In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Dr. Erin McGintee talks during an interview at her East Hampton, N.Y., office about the nearly 200 patients she has seen who have developed allergic reactions to red meat after being bitten by Lone Star ticks. The tick, whose bite causes the immune system to build antibodies against a certain sugar in red meat, is found throughout the southwest and eastern parts of the United States and abroad. (AP Photo/Rachelle Blidner)
  • In this July 31, 2014 photo, Dr. Colin Brammer, an entomologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, displays a lone star tick in a lab in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)
  • In this July 31, 2014 photo, a lone star tick is displayed on a monitor in a lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S.  (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)
  • This July 31, 2014 photo shows a lone star tick sits under a microscope in a lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in Raleigh, N.C. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in longtime carnivores who were bitten by Lone Star ticks, which are found in the Southwest and eastern half of the U.S.  (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

A bug can turn you into a vegetarian, or at least make you swear off red meat. Doctors across the country are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in people bitten by a certain kind of tick.

This bizarre problem was only discovered a few years ago but is growing as the ticks spread from the Southwest and the East to more parts of the United States. In some cases, eating a burger or a steak has landed people in the hospital with severe allergic reactions.

Few patients seem aware of the risk, and even doctors are slow to recognize it. As one allergist who has seen 200 cases on New York’s Long Island said, “Why would someone think they’re allergic to meat when they’ve been eating it their whole life?”

The culprit is the Lone Star tick, named for Texas, a state famous for meaty barbecues. The tick is now found throughout the South and the eastern half of the United States.

Researchers think some other types of ticks also might cause meat allergies; cases have been reported in Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Japan and Korea.

Here’s how it happens: The bugs harbor a sugar that humans don’t have, called alpha-gal. The sugar is found in red meat – beef, pork, venison, rabbit – and even some dairy products. It’s usually fine when people encounter it through food that gets digested.

But a tick bite triggers an immune system response, and in that high-alert state, the body perceives the sugar the tick transmitted to the victim’s bloodstream and skin as a foreign substance, and makes antibodies to it. That sets the stage for an allergic reaction the next time the person eats red meat and encounters the sugar.

It happened last summer to Louise Danzig, a 63-year-old retired nurse from Montauk on eastern Long Island.

Hours after eating a burger, “I woke up with very swollen hands that were on fire with itching,” she said. As she headed downstairs, “I could feel my lips and tongue were getting swollen,” and by the time she made a phone call for help, “I was losing my ability to speak and my airway was closing.”

She had had recent tick bites, and a blood test confirmed the meat allergy.

“I’ll never have another hamburger, I’m sure,” Danzig said. “I definitely do not want to have that happen to me again.”

Legacy Comments1

As Paul Harvey would say for some of "The Rest of The Story" (page B6 too with the abbreviated version ) of this complete report at: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/08/08/bite-from-this-tick-can-make-allergic-to-red-meat/ (1) " "It is bizarre," she said. "It goes against almost anything I've ever learned as an allergist," because the symptoms can occur as long as eight hours after eating meat, rather than immediately, and the culprit is a sugar - a type of carbohydrate - whereas most food allergies are caused by proteins, she said." (2) "We don't really know yet how durable this will be" or whether it's lifelong, like a shellfish allergy, Valet said. The meat allergy "does not seem to be lifelong, but the caveat is, additional tick bites bring it back," Commins said."

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