• By Deborah Balzer

Infectious Diseases A–Z: Lone star tick found in Wisconsin, linked to meat allergy

July 1, 2019

The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is common in southern, central and eastern parts of the country, and is now reported to have reached parts of Wisconsin. An aggressive biter, the nymph and adult females most frequently bite humans and can transmit several diseases. Dr. Bobbi Pritt, a Mayo Clinic parasitologist, says, though rare, some people develop an allergy to red meat after the bite of the lone star tick.

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"These are all lone star ticks," says Dr. Pritt.

It's tough to see in the dish, but each tick has the female lone star's distinctive spot.

"It has a little yellowy-white dot," Dr. Pritt says.

The tick with the yellow dot is now found in much of the eastern half of the U.S., the area that's at risk for a tick-related meat allergy.

"There's this syndrome that’s fairly newly recognized," says Dr. Pritt. "It's called alpha gal syndrome."

Dr. Pritt says the tick is thought to inject something into the person it's biting.

"One of those substances causes our body to form antibodies to this alpha gal sugar," adds Dr. Pritt.

The result can be an allergic reaction to meat. Symptoms occur several hours after eating the meat and can include itching; hives; swelling of the lips, mouth and airway; and anaphylactic shock.

"I would emphasize it is relatively rare, although, we are getting more reports of cases," cautions Dr. Pritt.

Protect yourself: Tuck your pants into your socks, wear repellent, and stay out of tall brush.

"Then, most importantly, when you come in from outdoors, check yourself, check your kids, check your pets for ticks, and remove them right away," says Dr. Pritt.

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