NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Scientists are working to learn more about a certain type of tick that causes lifelong allergies to red meat and dairy. It's rare, but doctors say the illness is on the rise and the tick responsible is right here in Louisiana.
It might seem hard to believe at first, but there is such a thing as an insect bite that triggers food allergies.
"This, apparently, is another condition transmitted by ticks in which a chemical, a foreign protein, can cause an allergy to red meat and dairy products," said Dr. James Diaz, who heads the Environmental and Occupational Health Science at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health.
The blood-suckers are known to carry a host of infectious diseases, most notably Lyme disease. But, in rare cases, one tick in particular could have something else in store for its human host.
"This protein is another chemical that is carried by tick saliva, specifically in a certain species of tick called the Lone Star tick, which we have in Louisiana," Diaz said.
Diaz says the Lone Star tick likely picks up this protein or allergen from feeding on wild animals.
"In man, that may set up a series of anti-body responses. It's a foreign protein. It's a chemical, but it behaves like an antigen, and that antigen stimulates the production of antibodies," explained Dr. Diaz.
That means, when you're exposed to the protein again, your body tries to fight it off, causing an allergic reaction - severe stomach pain, hives, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
"If you develop this, unfortunately, you want to avoid red meat and dairy because the more you're exposed to it, your body has a permanent immunologic memory and it will make even more anti-bodies, so potentially, you could have a more severe reaction," Dr. Diaz explained.
Scientists say the number of cases of the red meat and dairy allergy has been on the rise since 2009, with more than 5,000 cases estimated in the U.S. Yet, even if you're bitten by the Lone Star tick, they say you have a low probability of actually developing the allergy.
They say the longer the tick is on you, the greater the chance you pick up a pathogen or the red meat allergy.
Here in Louisiana, you're most likely to find the Lone Star tick on the North Shore in wooded areas, but they're still in the city, most often hiding in tall grass. If you spot a tick on you, don't use clear nail polish or burning match to get it off. You'll need a pair tweezers and be sure to get the head. Diaz says the longer the tick is on you, the greater the chance you contract something like the allergen.
Diaz adds the Lone Star tick "may produce other chemicals that allows it to feed on other animals that eat red meat and dairy products so, it's hard to say whether it's produced by the tick or if it's acquired by the tick as a result of it feeding on an animal."