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

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

Geographical Week

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

University of Winchester

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

  • 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...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...

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...

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…

Nature

New videos reveal how plants respond to wounds, sending forth…

Geophoto

The recent heatwave had everyone longing for a drop of…

Wildlife

The demand for horseshoe crab blood – vital for testing…

Climate

One of the problems in getting accurate climate science out…

Wildlife

Italy is divided over the future of its wolves and…

Energy

A Scottish tidal power project in the Pentland Firth has…

Oceans

The world’s first full global analysis of beaches reveals the…

Geophoto

With the recent Saddleworth Moor fire, it can be easy…

Wildlife

Whale sharks have been found to not travel far from…

Wildlife

The Lone Star tick is spreading across North America, carrying…

Tectonics

Earlier this week, Indonesia was struck by a series of…

Energy

Efforts to reduce the energy drain of the internet are…

Energy

Coal’s rising popularity among climate-apathetic leaders is a worrying trend,…