Americans love to eat red meat. Unfortunately, a growing number of people were forced to stop eating this gastronomic delight after being bitten by a type of tick.

The lone star tick, which is commonly found in wooded areas from Texas to Maine and all across the Southeast, is causing people who had been gorging hamburgers and steaks their whole life to develop an allergy to red meat. While the number of cases has increased due to the spread of the ticks from Texas all along the Eastern Coast, many are still unaware of this growing problem.

Erin McGintee, an allergist who has seen 200 cases of people who suddenly developed a meat allergy on Long Island, N.Y., said that it could be bizarre for some people to think that they are allergic to red meat when they had been eating it their entire life.

Robert Valet, an allergist from the Vanderbilt University, said that the tick bite could induce severe allergic reactions that could require hospitalization to treat. Valet said that within three to six hours after consuming red meat, a person who has the allergy can get hives, experience swelling and have difficulty breathing. Some could even develop severe allergic reaction that could lead to the closing of their airways.

Experts believe that the problem is caused by a sugar called alpha-gal, which is passed by the lone star tick when it bites its victim. Once the alpha-gal enters the blood stream, the body's immune system flags this as an invader and begins producing antibodies against it. Unfortunately, the sugar also happens to be present in all red meats, including venison, pork and beef, so consuming red meat eventually prompts the immune system to respond, resulting in allergic reactions.

It isn't yet clear if this tick bite-induced meat allergy is permanent or only temporary as some people show signs of recovery while others do not. Experts, however, said it will be best for the sufferers to avoid getting more tick bites as this could induce the rise of more antibodies. This means avoiding brush areas, and wearing clothing that can keep the ticks from biting the skin.

"The most important thing you can do if you develop the allergy, along with avoiding red meat, is to avoid more tick bites since the number of antibodies will rise if there are more tick bites," infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said.

The lone star ticks also spread several serious bacterial infections, such as ehrlichiosis and the potentially deadly tularemia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms usually appear within 30 days of a bite and can include fatigue, a fever, headache or muscle pain and swollen glands. There also can be a circular rash that resemlbes the one with Lyme rash, although experts believe that the rash is sparked by a different bacterium. It's usually treated with oral antibiotics.

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