Time to say goodbye?
Have you been meaning to change your diet and improve your lifestyle, but could never find the courage or motivation to do so? Strangely enough, your best ally in this endeavor might not be a self-help guru or your own iron will, but rather a six-legged creature frequently associated with debilitating illnesses.
According to a new study by the University of Virginia, the lowly Lone Star tick, also known as “amblyomma americanum,” can transform you into a lifelong vegetarian with a single bite. A still rare but spreading response to the tick’s sting can unleash an allergic reaction to meat in the victim. So far, an allergy known as galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, alpha-gal for short, has struck down over 1,500 Americans, mostly in and around Virginia. And no one appears to be immune. The reaction seems to be caused by the tick’s saliva, which enters the human body through a bite. The researchers have called for further studies to solidify their findings.
A mixed blessing: The Lone Star tick
The connection with ticks hasn’t been proven yet, and yet the smoking gun is out there for all to see: All patients so far have been bitten by ticks. What’s worse, there is no antidote in sight. Dr. Scott Commins, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia, explains that “people will eat beef and then anywhere from three to six hours later start having a reaction; anything from hives to full-blown anaphylactic shock… And most people want to avoid having the reaction, so they try to stay away from the food that triggers it.”
But it isn’t just beef: According to researchers, the reaction is just as strong for consumers of pork and lamb.
The allergy isn’t only a problem for backwoodsmen. So far, its most celebrated victim is none other than bestselling author John Grisham. The prolific Southern writer first noted the symptoms in 2002.
I noticed some rashes on my ankles. I remember thinking, “This is weird, both ankles.”
Then in July 2002, I went with my wife to an annual garden club dinner, and she had prepared these huge beef tenderloins that I had grilled. And while I was cooking, I was shaving some off to sample. By the time we got to the garden club party, my ears were really, really itching. I got my wife and said, “Renee, something’s going on.”
Author and vegetarian John Grisham
There was a doctor there, and he gave me an antihistamine. My skin was on fire.
So we got in the car, and I was so desperate I stripped down, took off all my clothes but my boxer shorts, and I had all the air [conditioning vents] blowing on me, and you could just see the welts. The skin was just welting up. It almost made me nauseated just watching my skin.
Two weeks later, we went to a baseball game in Shea Stadium with the kids, and I had a hot dog. And this is when the weird stuff started happening because from that point on [the reactions] were all delayed [by four or five hours after eating]. I’d be asleep – and when you wake up you know you’re in big-time trouble.
In September, Renee fixed some big beef dish, and she had a thick wine reduction sauce, just delicious. And I woke up and thought I was going to die. It was the worst hives and rashes and itching ever.
If the allergy can affect John Grisham, then who else is safe? So this just might be your chance to go vegetarian with the perfect excuse for your barbecue-happy relatives. But don’t get excited just yet: Tick bites are a serious business. They can spread debilitating Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Alpha-gal is also a dangerous condition. So before you head out into the woods, barefoot and looking for trouble, try a diet first. If you’re looking to six-legged parasites to change your life around, you’ve got bigger problems than just an unbalanced diet.