Tick Bites Spark Allergies
Reported July 2009
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Warm weather and nice days lead many people to spend more time outdoors, but beware of tiny ticks. New research shows their bite can lead to a serious allergic reaction.
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Who would ever think that an afternoon by the grill, combined with a tiny critter lurking outdoors, could lead to a visit to the emergency room? That's what happened to Brenda Neitz. A tick bite she received months earlier, combined with recently eating red meat, sent her into a severe allergic reaction.
"The burning, the itching, and when I had the swelling of the tongue -- I knew I was in big trouble," Neitz recalled to Ivanhoe.
It was a terrifying experience.
"I felt like I was in a life or death situation," Neitz said.
Unlike most food allergy reactions that occur within minutes of exposure, symptoms from tick bites and meat can occur three to six hours after eating beef, pork or lamb. Allergists at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., call the reaction "delayed anaphylaxis."
"These are predominately adult onset reactions, meaning these people have tolerated red meat their entire lives. They're now developing an allergy," Scott Commins, M.D., explained.
During a typical allergic reaction, our body creates antibodies called immunoglobulin "E" or IGE that allergens like pollen stick to, causing an allergic reaction. But in this case, a tick bite triggers the body to make a new antibody -- alpha-GAL. After eating meat, alpha-GAL attaches to IGE, causing a severe allergic reaction.
"There are tests available that could detect the presence of this antibody, and then they'll be safer in the future knowing they can avoid red meat and reduce the reactions," Dr. Commins said.
Skin tests have not been effective. Blood tests show people with type B or AB blood seem protected, but be aware of the danger if you have another blood type.
Neitz knows her risks, but still has cravings.
"Of course the one thing I want is a big fat juicy hamburger," said Neitz, smiling.
Researchers reported that people who develop the red meat allergy often report significant itching and redness around the tick bite. Get a screening test done if you're concerned about having an allergic reaction.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Ellen C. McKenna, MBA
Public Relations, UVA Health System
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