Man develops red meat allergy after tick bite


BEAVER LAKE — Doctors first thought it was mites. Then hives. But when Mike Stafford saw a specialist for his itching and bleeding skin, the doctor told him he had been bitten by a Lone Star tick.


And because of that tick bite, Stafford developed Alpha-gal syndrome, a food allergy to red meat.

“I’m a red meat man. I’m a steak man, sausage and gravy and bacon. And I can’t have none of that,” the 66-year-old Beaver Lake man said. “It’s just a pain in the rump.”

According to information from the Mayo Clinic, when a Lone Star tick bites a human, it transmits an alpha-gal sugar molecule — a sugar molecule found in animals the tick feeds on — into the body. That molecule can trigger an immune system reaction in humans that can lead to mild to severe allergic reactions to red meat — like beef and pork — and sometimes dairy.

The Lone Star tick is primarily found in the southeastern part of the U.S., but according to the Mayo Clinic, deer have been carrying the tick other places, including the Midwest.

Stafford said his doctor in Evansville told him he had treated two cases of Alpha-gal in 20 years, and now, he has 27 cases.

Stafford, who is a retired union iron worker, started experiencing the Alpha-gal allergy symptoms in June, and the allergy doctor diagnosed him in July.

He’s not sure when and where he was bitten by the Lone Star tick. His wife, Sue, calls him “an outside person,” and it’s not uncommon for him to find a tick on himself.

Lone Star ticks have reddish-brown, oval bodies that can be gray when engorged. Females have a single yellowy-white spot on their backs.

Symptoms of an alpha-gal allergic reaction, which occur several hours after consuming red meat, are hives, itching or itchy, scaly skin; swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat or other body parts; wheezing or shortness of breath; a runny nose; abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; sneezing; headaches; and anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that restricts breathing.

Treatment for alpha-gal includes avoiding foods that cause the reaction. Mike now also carries an EpiPen in case of a reaction.

He said he had never heard of a tick bite causing a red meat allergy, but his life is now changed forever because of it.

His doctor told him that because of his age, he’ll likely have the red meat allergy for the rest of life.

Mike’s allergy is so severe that he had an allergic reaction earlier this month after eating at a restaurant that cooked his eggs and hash browns on the same grill where red meat had been cooked.

“He got home and his breathing was bad,” Sue said. “He was breaking out all over his chest.”

She took him to Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper where doctors determined the reaction was from his allergy.

“It’s hard. We’re fighting a battle that’s got us on edge,” Sue said “I thought he was dying Thursday night.”

Dairy also affects Mike’s allergy, so he tries to avoid it as well.

“But I stick a little dairy in every now and then,” he said.

His advice for others is to be careful.

“Once you’re bit, I think you’re done,” he said. “If you’re itching, check for ticks.”

To avoid tick bites, the Mayo Clinic advises people to stay away from areas where ticks are likely to be, like in tall grass, and wear repellent.



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