WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Associate professor at Kansas State University and parasitologist Brian Herrin says the Lone Star tick has been the most common tick in Kansas for years.
The Lone Star tick carries alpha-gal, a disease that gives people an allergy to mammal products.
“We are seeing an increase in cases currently, but it’s really an increase in awareness from the doctor side of it as well,” Herrin said. “There’s probably lots of people that were just diagnosed with chronic diverticulitis for years, and now their allergist knows to test for something else.”
Herrin says there is no need to panic or stay indoors, but make sure to use bug repellent and reapply it just as you would sunscreen.
“Take control rather than like a crippling fear,” Herrin said. “Using that concern about ticks to motivate me to be more thoughtful about using tick control and then after I’m out in the outdoors, doing tick checks to make sure there’s none.”
Herrin says a reported increase in cases is mostly due to the public interest and more doctors and people becoming aware of the disease.
“There’s many people who were undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with different things for many years and just had lots of GI or kind of allergic issues in general, and then now have a correct diagnosis,” Herrin said.
The female Lone Star tick has a white spot on its back, but the male does not. They can transmit a variety of diseases to humans and other animals, but that’s nothing new. They cannot transmit Lyme disease.
“The diagnostics on everything are quite challenging, but the diseases transmitted by Lone Star ticks are much more common in Kansas than Lyme disease.”
Alpha Gal only infects primates because they do not have alpha galactose.
“Alpha-gal syndrome is named for that sugar,” Herrin said. “So the alpha galactose sugar that seems to be what humans are making their allergic response to.”
Herrin suggests removing the tick as soon as you see it, making sure not to break off its mouth. Then, put it in a bag and save it in case you do get sick so it can be tested.
He says tick season is year-round because different species and age groups are always out, so always consider tick control.
Katie Wille is an advocate for bug repellent after her son was diagnosed with alpha-gal.
“Always use repellent,” Katie said. “We were never avid repent repellent people. We never used any of that, and now we just douse my kids in it. Always use repellent”
Her son Landon was getting more and more sick.
“I saw him start to slow down and slow down and slow down, slow down,” Katie said. “He was just getting super, super pale, and I didn’t really notice until he quit eating his favorite foods.”
His first doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong and had never heard of alpha-gal.
“We did all these different tests that just came back as nothing,” Katie said. “I mean, he was healthy according to all his work.”
The second doctor he went to had Alpha Gal herself. Landon’s life will never be the same.
“It goes far beyond just a red meat allergy,” Katie said. “It’s anything that includes mammal products. Everything has completely changed for him as far as what we have to eat, bathe with, just anything”
Katie says her family loves going to the lake and camping, and she says don’t take the dangers of ticks lightly.