WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — As summer activities begin to ramp up, many are aware that bugs also come out as well. One of these bugs is the Lonestar tick, which Kansas State University (K-State) researchers say can cause an allergy to red meat.

The Lonestar tick is identifiable by the white dot in the center of the body. They are most active between April and September and have been found in western Kansas as well as eastern Kansas.

Karen Blakeslee, a K-State food scientist, says a bite from the Lonestar tick can cause an Alpha-gal allergy, which the Mayo Clinic says is an allergy to red meat and other products made from mammals.

“The Alpha-gal molecule is carried in the saliva of the Lonestar tick,” Blakeslee said. “People bit by this tick can become sensitive and produce the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody. Unlike typical food allergies, which is a reaction to protein, this is a reaction to a specific grouping of two carbohydrates, galactose-α-1.3-galactose, a disaccharide found in most mammals.” 

The types of food that might trigger an allergic reaction are any kind of red meat, like pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, or venison, other mammal products like gelatin or cow’s milk, and some medications that use mammal-derived gelatins.

Symptoms can appear 3-8 hours after consuming reactive food. Some of these symptoms include rash, hives, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, nausea, and severe stomach pain. These symptoms can be life-threatening, so you should seek medical care immediately.

Blakeslee said the Alpha-gal allergy, while rare, can develop in people of any age and is usually permanent.

“The allergy is managed with antihistamines, corticosteroids, or other medications,” Blakeslee said. “Every person reacts differently, and it may be possible to slowly reintroduce red meat foods after a long period of time.” 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says Alpha-gal is not found in fish, reptiles, birds, or people. They have a list of products that may contain Alpha-gal on their website

Here are some tips to avoid being bit by ticks during summer camping trips or outdoor activities:

  • Use insect repellant
  • Check your clothes for ticks
  • When home, take a shower and do a thorough check for ticks

Blakeslee said you are more at risk for the Alpha-gal allergy if you have multiple tick bites.

For more information on the Lonestar tick and the Alpha-gal allergy, you can visit the CDC’s website by clicking here.