Minnesotan bitten by tick causing red meat allergy still suffers nearly 8-years later

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A tick fairly new to Minnesota is giving people an allergy to red meat.

The disease is called Alpha Gal disease and its caused by the lone star tick. Typically, this kind of tick isn’t found in the northern part of the country. Officials at the Minnesota Department of Health are saying this tick is finding its way north due to warming climates and also by birds.

Minnesota Department of Health’s supervisor for the vector borne illness branch, Elizabeth Schiffman, says “you know, a bird gets a tick on it when it is somewhere where there are more of those ticks and then that bird flies north and the tick drops off here in Minnesota. That could happen with other migrating animals as well.”

Schiffman also says there isn’t a surveillance program for lone star ticks, like there are for other common ticks like deer and wood ticks. She also mentioned some major differences to look out for when you are out in the woods.

“It has it’s kind of a it has a a very round body like our, you know, our our ticks that we see a lot of here, the black legged tick or the deer tick, as most of us call it, and the wood tick, they’re a little bit more teardrop shaped. The lone star ticks are definitely very round and they have a kind of a bright the females have a bright white spot on their back, which is kind of where they get the name from.”

Some symptoms that are possible after being bit by a lone star tick include:

  • Swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eye lids
  • Sever stomach pain
  • Itchy painful rash

The biggest message, prevention. Wearing DEET or another kind of bug-spray is key, Schiffman says.

We also spoke to Heather Holman of Orr Minnesota after she was bit by a lone star tick eight years ago.

Holman says, “It was in April. And I found a chick on my rib cage, and I noticed it had a spot, but I didn’t think much of it, and I just flushed it down the toilet cause I never heard of it.”

She adds that her symptoms didn’t start until roughly two months later. “I had an itchy rash head to toe, and essentially went into anaphylaxis. I still have reactions today, my tongue swells up and sometimes when I eat dairy, like ice cream, I get bad stomach cramps.”

Holman mentioned, “I started to develop an allergy to even the fumes of red meat cooking. I couldn’t walk into a restaurant for nearly two years.”

She mentions that not everyone who gets bit by the tick will contract the disease. It is relative to each person bitten.

If you are bit and start to develop symptoms, it is crucial that you go in and get tested for Alpha Gal. There is no other accurate way to test for the disease. Schiffman says most medical professionals are not confident in their ability to detect the disease unless the patient is tested.

For more information on Alpha Gal, or the lone star tick there is more at the CDC’s website.