Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

High steaks: Lone Star ticks

The Lone Star is spreading across the US, causing a range of side effects The Lone Star is spreading across the US, causing a range of side effects
11 Aug
2018
The Lone Star tick is spreading across North America, carrying a peculiar health threat with it: an allergy to red meat

Bad news for North American carnivores: your ability to devour red meat is being threatened. The continent has seen a large increase in populations of blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) in recent years, spreading northwards as the climate warms, carrying the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi – which causes Lyme disease – with them. Recently they have been joined in large numbers by Lone Star ticks (Amblyomma americanum), distinguishable by the white spot on their backs. These are traditionally found in small populations in southern states such as Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, but are increasingly being observed in more northern states, and even across the border in Canada. While these aggressive ticks are not carriers of B. burgdorferi – in fact their saliva has been observed to destroy the bacteria entirely – their bites nevertheless have an usual and potentially hazardous side-effect.

In many regions of the United States, people have increasingly reported developing seemingly random allergic reactions, experiencing everything from mild reaction such as rashes and swelling, to, in the most severe cases, full anaphylactic shocks. Research developed over the past 15 years strongly suggests that this is a red meat allergy contracted by Lone Star tick bites, also known as ‘alpha-gal’ allergy.

Dr Melody Carter, staff clinician in the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Laboratory of Allergic Diseases, confirms that both the numbers and geographic spread of diagnosed cases are growing. ‘This is most likely due to the spread of the deer habitat along with the tick population,’ she explains.

Lone Star tick bites are believed to trigger a rapid increase in the quantity of antibodies which see alpha-gal – a sugary chemical found in the tissues of mammals, such as cattle and other livestock, but crucially not in birds or fish – as a threatening invader and consequentially goes on the attack. This is the working theory for why tick bites can cause people to later develop severe reactions to eating ribs, bacon, or other barbecue gastronomy (often several hours after eating, making it harder to link the reaction to the offending meal). ‘It is important for providers to recognise the symptoms associated with this syndrome,’ says Carter, ‘but also important to take preventive measures to decrease exposure and once diagnosed avoid red meat consumption.’ 

This was published in the August 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The human game – tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital have a green future,...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

A new system of robotic aerial vehicles is revolutionising the…

Wildlife

Technology used in creating safe urban environments is now being…

Climate

Brazil’s shift to the right of the political spectrum could…

Wildlife

Laura Cole travels to Orkney to find out why numbers…

Wildlife

The unprecedented frequency of winter tick epidemics have resulted in…

Oceans

Ocean debris, mostly composed of plastic, reaches remote Atlantic islands…

Geophoto

With motion detectors becoming ever more sophisticated, and clearer, crisper…

Nature

Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of…

Tectonics

The reason for the unusual location of Mount St Helens…

Climate

Most plants thicken their leaves in response to higher carbon…

Climate

Not just the preserve of flatulent cows, methane is causing…

Climate

As the United States’ Supreme Court delays a landmark climate…

Geophoto

Of Britain's 15 national parks, the New Forest is probably…

Energy

The Treasury has announced that it is considering imposing a…

Tectonics

Major earthquakes are triggering seismic activity half the world away

Climate

Marco Magrini finds that a warming world also means a…

Wildlife

Unchecked tourism is potentially reducing the number of cheetah cubs that…

Oceans

A relocated military base in Okinawa, Japan will cause ‘irreversible’…

Climate

The ongoing recovery of the planet’s ozone layer is being…

Oceans

The Ocean Cleanup has launched System 001, a floating barrier…