(CN) – Scientists have identified another reason to be wary of tick bites – the small insect’s bite can lead to the development of a life-threatening allergy to red meat.
In an article published Tuesday in the journal Allergy, researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, found that some patients’ seemingly inexplicable allergic reactions were caused by a rare allergy to red meat.
Unlike more common food allergies, an allergic reaction to red meat does not show up immediately after eating and instead can take three to six hours to appear, making it difficult for doctors and patients to identify the cause.
The NIAID researchers found that the red-meat allergy is linked to a sugar molecule found in beef, pork, lamb and other red meats called galactose-α-1,3, or alpha-gal.
All six of the study participants who tested positive for the allergy to alpha-gal, out of a pool of 70 people, had a history of Lone Star tick bites.
“We often think of ticks as carriers of infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease, but the research strongly suggests that bites from this particular species of tick can lead to this unusual allergy,” Dr. Melody C. Carter, NIAID staff clinician and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
However, scientists are not clear how tick bites lead to the development of an alpha-gal allergy.
After cutting red meat from their diets, the six participants had no serious allergic reactions in the 18 months to three years in which they were monitored.
Researchers have found a higher rate of red-meat allergies in parts of the country where the Lone Star tick is more common, especially the Southeast and certain areas of New York and New England, but do not know how many Americans may suffer from the allergy.
“The association is increasingly clear,” Carter said, “but we still need to discover exactly how these two events are linked and why some people with similar exposure to tick bites seem to be more prone to developing alpha-gal allergy than others.”