Recently, a tick named after the state of Texas has been identified as the cause of meat allergies for at least 1,500 people in the United States. The lone star tick, which is most commonly found in the southeastern US, can actually manipulate the immune system of its victims, causing them to suffer allergic reactions to meat and some other animal products. 
How a Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
The ticks specifically cause an allergy to the sugar alpha-gal. Humans don’t make this sugar, but it’s found naturally in a number of non-primate animals, including cows, sheep, and pigs. Most people have some form of immunity to this sugar, which allows them to eat products like beef, pork, and mutton. But people who have been bitten by the lone star tick lack this immunity and may suffer serious and potentially fatal allergy symptoms, such as anaphylactic shock. The unusual connection between the lone star tick and alpha-gal allergies was first uncovered in 2008 when allergy specialists at the University of Virginia noticed that some of their patients—all of whom lived in the southeastern United States—were having allergic reactions to a cancer drug that contains the alpha-gal sugar. The allergy specialists researched medical conditions for the geographical area in which these patients lived and discovered that Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, another tick-borne illness, was common in the region. After some probing, they learned that all their patients had been exposed to ticks prior to the investigation.
Scientists have discovered that the lone star tick actually changes the way Immunoglobulin E antibodies react with the alpha-gal sugar. Although there are only about 1,500 documented cases of meat allergies caused by the lone star tick so far, the number of cases has been increasing quickly in the past few years as the tick has spread from the southeast to the northeastern coast of the United States. It is currently found in parts of at least 30 states.
Evidence suggests that the allergy caused by the lone star tick may only last for several months to several years, as long as the affected individual is not bitten again. Unfortunately, it is difficult for these people who live in the more rural areas of the southeast–where the tick is populous–to entirely avoid being bitten. Avoiding wooded, overgrown natural areas as much as possible may be the best technique for protection from the lone star tick. For the time being, those who have been bitten must adapt to a vegetarian diet.
Why You Should Eat Less Meat
If you’re trying to give up meat or reduce your consumption, you don’t need a tick to help you kick the meat habit. First off, if you’re a meat eater, then me telling you to eat a vegan diet probably won’t sway your mind. I do urge, however, that meat eaters choose organic, free-range, and grass-fed meat whenever possible to minimize their exposure to chemical toxins that accumulate in meat that is factory farmed. Also, balance out your meat consumption by loading your plate with plenty of raw or cooked vegetables. By vegetables, I don’t just mean potatoes and corn. Choose steamed or roasted greens like collards, spinach, and broccoli. This will go a long way in keeping you feeling full and satisfied between meals, perhaps reducing the amount of meat you will have to eat in each sitting.
- The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Amblyomma americanum (Lone star tick). Department of Entomology.