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Bug Bite Can Make You Allergic To Red Meat

Narrator: Imagine that you’re
a red-blooded carnivore. You love burgers, steak,
pork chops, bacon. But one day, out of nowhere,
red meat starts to make you physically sick to the stomach. It sounds like science
fiction, but it’s real, and it’s spreading. It’s spreading to people like Amy. Amy: My name is Amy Pearl,
and I’m a producer for WNYC. Narrator: She has what is called a mammalian meat allergy. Amy: I have a tendency to not
mention it at restaurants, because I feel like if
you say to a server, I’m allergic to meat,
they’re gonna be like, I’m spitting in your food. Narrator: Any meat that came from a cow, a pig, or a lamb, will make Amy sick. Very, very sick. Amy: Like I just had hives
on my hands and my feet, and like all over my torso. I was nauseous, and I
felt like I was fainting, I felt like the world was ending, I felt like I was gonna pass out and I couldn’t really breathe. Narrator: Thousands of Americans
are suffering like Amy, but until 2009, this sort
of allergy went undiagnosed. Amy: I think I made an appointment with my regular physician,
but he immediately was like, there’s no such thing as a meat allergy, has to be something else. Narrator: That changed with
the cancer drug, Cetuximab. In a clinical trial, one
in four patients developed severe allergic reactions to the drug. Some even died. Naturally, Cetuximab was investigated. University of Virginia’s
allergy department focused on one specific part of the drug. The key ingredient in Cetuximab
is a specific carbohydrate that all non-primate mammals
carry in their cell walls and tissues,
Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or, if you’re pressed for time, alpha-gal. Dogs have it, cats have
it, and the mice cells involved in the production
of Cetuximab have alpha-gal. The team discovered that
those who had reactions were from only certain areas
of the US, the southeast. The locations of the cases
aligned almost perfectly with the range of a specific type of tick, the lone star tick. Dr. Scott Commins is an allergist, and was working with the
University at the time. Scott: Over 90 to 93% of our patients that developed allergic
reactions to red meat and test positive by blood test will have a history of tick bites. Amy: The thing I Googled
was “sudden meat allergy.” I found an article that
said there was some man in Florida, had gone
into anaphylactic shock from eating meat after a tick bite. And I was like, “I had a tick bite!” I mean, I often have a tick bite. I’d just taken a tick off me. Narrator: One of the leading researchers, Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills,
went so far to use himself in an unofficial experiment,
taking a hike through a nest of larval ticks. It earned him a nice
case of red meat allergy. There’s still a lot we
don’t know about how this meat allergy works, but
here is the leading theory. Ticks don’t have alpha-gal naturally, but they could be carrying
it if they fed off a mammal, like a deer or a dog. If a tick then bites you, it trades some of your delicious blood for its saliva, which is a cocktail of nasty things. An enzyme in that saliva
tells your body that there’s a variety of dangerous threats, and your immune system bans
everything in that saliva from entering the body,
including alpha-gal, which is also in every burger,
steak, and bacon strip. So the next time you eat one of those, your body treats the
carbohydrate like an intruder, and hits the panic button. This is happening in the bodies of an estimated 5,000 Americans. What’s worse is that the range of the lone star tick is growing. Scott: Their range is spreading into the Ohio River Valley and
now up into Minnesota. We also know places where this
alpha-gal red meat allergy exists, but they don’t have
lone star ticks at all. And this would be southern
Sweden, for example, there are parts of Europe, Australia, and now even South Africa. So clearly other tick
species can do this as well. Narrator: University of
Virginia’s researchers have also linked the alpha-gal allergies with a higher risk of heart disease. Scott: This allergy seems
as though it will often go away over time, but
the problem has been that any additional tick bites seem to cause the allergy to return. And these are often patients
who like to be outside. Amy: I know that my
numbers have gone down, because I’ve been retested
a couple of times, but they’re still 10, 20
times what they should be. Narrator: Dr. Commins
continues to work towards an immediate cure to
mammalian meat allergy. In the meantime, the
number of cases are rising. Scott: So what we’ve
been trying to do is work on a vaccine related to tick saliva, in hopes that we can prevent
the allergic response from continuing, or recurring,
with additional tick bites. Narrator: If you’ve been
bitten by ticks recently, be sure to get tested. If you haven’t, learn how
to explore the woods safely. Scott: Well if you haven’t been bitten, then try to stick to the trails. If you’re going into a
heavy tick-infested area, you may want to consider
pre-treating your skin or clothing with DEET or
Permethrin, respectively. Amy: People are so
freaked out about ticks, it’s not that bad. They’re much easier to see than you think. Narrator: Learn how to do a tick check after spending time in the wilderness. And if you value a juicy
steak over a walk in nature, then maybe stay out of the woods.

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100 thoughts on “Bug Bite Can Make You Allergic To Red Meat

  1. This actually happened to my father. A tick gave him an allergy to mammal meat. Stopped for a bit, then came back. It's scary knowing this is out of our control

  2. Carbohydrates in general makes me tired with Alzheimer's symptoms. Beef makes me want to vomit, pigs and eggs are fine.

  3. Finally a cure for the meat eating zombies. The lone star tick is a hero and will be an emblom on our Vegan battle flag.

  4. can we start to eradicate ticks? We need to do somthing about all these diseases that people keep getting.

  5. I’m lucky I never got a rick bite before and I live in Virginia so omgggg my cousin just got a tick

  6. My Nana suffers from a red meat allergy, I wonder if this is why. I really wish she could eat red meat though, I think she would like that.

  7. lol i love how planet earth is finding ways at all angles to limit humans, and this will always keep happening as long as there's a sense of unbalance with the ecosystem. Humans are the most numerous large animals to ever exist and that isn't normal, and so over time we will begin to notice and discover things that will evolve to counter humans, eventually one of nature's many attempts will succeed, only a matter of time.

  8. Nobody in this comment section understands that this doesn’t make you a vegan, you can still eat other meat like chicken.

  9. Some meat lover : there is no such thing as a meat allergy
    Amy pearl : am I a joke to you?
    *a tick nearby Bites him

    2 days later a man went crazy and was put into a mental hospital

  10. I will just eat the ticks before they can eat me. If I'm lucky and they carry Alpha-Gal, It'll get a bit of protein

  11. GUYS
    Vegan = doesn't want to/cannot consume animal products
    Vegetarian = doesn't want to/cannot consume meat

  12. I think this is not possible since we were vegetarian long back and then when we started to eat meat our body must have refected the chemical then we must have adapted to change us to carnivores so the meat allergies are not caused due to alpha,…! Enzymes but something other

  13. I wish i was allergic to meat, i hate the taste of meat. Looking at it makes me gag but I’m forced to eat it anyways

  14. my brother developed severe anaphylaxis for ANYTHING that comes from a cow, and the dairy part is hereditary, (his mom has a really bad dairy allergy) and we think the meat part is from this tick because we live in the south. we are a bit confused on how quickly his allergy came and if it can make you allergic to beef by products (collagen, casein, ect.)

  15. I got bitten by a tick and i got this this huge thing on my hand i couldve died but i recovered and nothing happend

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