When scientists first figured out years ago that a particular tick was making people allergic to meat, it was an odd malady mostly confined to southern states. But the New York Times reports that the Lone Star tick has been busily expanding its territory in the interim. Researchers have mapped cases as far north as Maine and as far west as Nebraska, and climate projections suggest the tick will have no trouble establishing itself in California, Oregon, and Washington state in the not-too-distant future. In other words, the tick might be going nationwide.
“What we’re now seeing is a wide open door for ticks to continue expanding their range further northward; bringing more people into the fold of the arthropod-borne diseases,” Michael Raupp, a professor emeritus in entomology at the University of Maryland, tells the newspaper. When the tick bites someone, it transmits a sugar called alpha-gal, which is not normally present in humans. For some people, that triggers a troublesome immune response known as alpha-gal syndrome—and one telltale symptom is that people can no longer tolerate red meat.
The number of people with the syndrome has been steadily on the rise, with about 34,000 in the US diagnosed as of last year. The states with the biggest incidences per 100,000 people are Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Missouri, per Today. The latter story includes an interview with one woman whose meat intolerance goes beyond being unable to consume it—she can't even be around barbecues. "I've gone anaphylactic within 10 minutes of inhaling the fumes of mammalian meat or dairy cooking." (Read more ticks stories.)