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June 15, 2013

Lone star tick bite can spur reaction to meat

No more bacon. Or salami. Or steak. Those are the doctor’s orders for Ginger Brown, who lives on 12 acres northeast of Wichita.

No more bacon. Or salami. Or steak.

Those are the doctor’s orders for Ginger Brown, who lives on 12 acres northeast of Wichita.

“I guess I could try chicken pastrami,” she said.

The diet change came after her diagnosis of a bite by the lone star tick, which is becoming more and more common in Kansas, said Thomas Scott, an allergist at Via Christi Clinic. He said he has diagnosed at least seven cases in the past year – including Brown’s.

The condition is not an allergy to the tick itself, but the non-primate blood the ticks consume. The reaction is like other food allergies – hives, itching, swelling and possibly dizziness and wheezing, and can require an epinephrine shot.

“Ticks need blood to live, and they feed on cattle,” Scott said. “If they bite a person, they transfer some of the blood of the animal into a human, who forms a response to the animal, usually beef, lamb or pork.”

The reaction can be a problem – especially in beef country, he said, and some patients have ignored his recommendation that they forgo red meat.

“This is not an infection,” Scott said. “People often associate ticks and infection.

“The tick is just the taxi driver; the way you were exposed to the meat is what causes an allergic response.”

It’s still too early to know whether or not patients diagnosed with the condition will eventually outgrow it, Scott said.

The unique thing about this condition is the delayed reaction by about three to six hours, Scott said. The reaction also may be volume dependent.

“If you have a huge steak or a whole piece of lamb or half a ham, you’re more likely to react,” he said.

The first patient Scott had with the allergy was a 70-year-old man who loved steak and had eaten it all his life. But he was waking up sick in the night after having steak dinners.

Brown said she had her first major allergic reaction while in a hotel in Lawrence during fall homecoming. The reaction sent her to the emergency room even after taking Sudafed. Her reaction was four or five hours after eating dinner.

The event led to her seek out an allergist, but in the meantime before her appointment, she was “happily chomping on meat,” with milder symptoms, she said.

It can be especially difficult when her husband decides to eat steak.

“It’s not a tragedy, but it’s an annoyance,” she said. “There are worse things that could have happened to me.”

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