Connection explained between lone star ticks, red meat allergy

Health threat more of a concern to people repeatedly exposed to particular tick.

Reports this summer have alerted the public to a little-known health threat that could occur from the bite of a lone star tick: development of an allergy to red meat.

Kansas State University researcher Roman Ganta said this health threat is more of a concern to people who have been repeatedly exposed to this particular type of tick.

"If someone has been bitten by a lone star tick for the first time, they shouldn't feel they will develop a red meat allergy," said Ganta, director of the university's Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The center researches human and animal diseases caused by ticks, mosquitoes and other vectors.

Lone star ticks feed on a non-human host, such as white-tailed deer, with a particular type of carbohydrate -- alpha-gal -- that is not present in people. Over time, the buildup of alpha-gal in the human bloodstream will produce an immune (allergic) response when a person consumes red meat, such as a steak, hot dog or hamburger, he said.

Cases of the allergy could become more frequent, because the lone star tick may be more prevalent than it was 10 or 15 years ago, Ganta said.

"Its expansion is linked to the spread of white-tailed deer, which is the major host of this particular tick," Ganta explained.

Human activity is a factor in the spread of the deer.

"Any time there's a rapid expansion, such as new construction, we're not restricting our own boundaries," Ganta said. "We keep chopping all the wooded places, so deer are adapting to the population in the city. It's very common in Manhattan, Kan., to see white-tailed deer. Ticks from the deer will drop into the lawn, back yard or front yard or even parks."

Other animals also can be hosts for the lone star tick.

"You'd be surprised to know we see them a lot on wild turkeys," Ganta said. "The wild turkey is also present in large numbers."

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