This tick bite side effect could be a meat eater’s worst nightmare

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WTKR) - Backyard barbecues, hiking your favorite trail, even the simple joy of mowing your lawn: outdoor fun that might be cut short thanks to a common threat, hungry for your blood.

The Lone Star tick lives mostly in the Eastern and Southeastern United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and one bite from this tick could make you allergic to red meat.

That tick-borne illness is called Alpha-gal.

"This could be dangerous," said News 3's medical expert, Dr. Ryan Light. "Possibly altering your diet for the rest of your life, so it could be a very scary thing."

Scientists say Alpha-gal is a carbohydrate found in red meat, like beef and pork. It is fine when digested normally, but when a Lone Star tick bites, the tick's saliva can make you allergic to this Alpha-gal carbohydrate.

Symptoms can take one day to two months to fully kick in. However, once they do, every time a person with the Alpha-gal allergy eats red meat, he or she will experience at least some of the following symptoms: nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach and itching.

But you do not have to stay indoors to protect your love of red meat. To protect yourself from ticks, experts recommend wearing long, loose shirts, pants and boots when venturing out into the wilderness.

Light says the sooner you get the tick off of you, the better.

"Probably the best advice is to do a check of your body after you get out of the wilderness or when you cross into areas that are known for ticks," said Light, who notes that a bite from a Lone Star tick does not necessarily mean you will automatically develop the Alpha-gal allergy.

Light says one to three percent of the population suffer from a red meat allergy, and there is currently no cure for the Alpha-gal allergy.

While sufferers are usually told to stay away from red meat, most chicken and fish are still fair game.

11 PHOTOS
How to avoid tick bites
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How to avoid tick bites

1. Stay in the middle of the path

When hiking, make sure to stay in the middle of the path. Weeds, grass and trees make it easier for ticks to crawl onto you. Don't venture out to the grass or bushes, where ticks are formidable to be hiding. 

2. Wear long pants and closed toed shoes

Protect your skin. Adding an extra layer makes it more difficult to latch on to you. It's smart to wear pants, long sleeves and hats, especially in the summer.

3. Invest in deer-resistant plants. 

Since ticks feed on and are transported by deer, try looking into deer-resistant plants. French marigolds, rosemary, mint and crape myrtle are just some of the greens deer tend to "overlook". 

See a complete list of the herbs and flowers here

4. Check your dog! 

Dogs can literally bring ticks right to your front door. Prevent ticks by keeping their coats short in the summer. Use your hands to check the fur, stopping if you feel a pea-sized bump. Favorite spots ticks like to hide include the ears, toes and under the tail. 

Dog ticks don't "harbor diseases that sicken people", but you should still be wary. 

5. Yes, repellant can help. 

According to TickenEncounter, spray with DEET does not provide "sufficient" protection. Get spray for your clothes like Permethrin, which instantly kills ticks. 

6. Dry your clothes 

The CDC recommends tumble drying clothes immediately for ten minutes after you've been outside. Ticks can easily "dry out" with high heat, but you should make sure the clothes are completely dry. 

Warning: Ticks can survive the wash. 

7. Tuck your pants into your socks.

This covers the small, easily accessible space in between your pants and ankles. Especially if you are sitting, it makes it easier for ticks to latch on. 

8. Stay in the sun.

Since ticks survive in shady, humid environments, researchers agree that staying in the sun lowers the risk for ticks. According to LiveScience, ticks "can't survive" in places with lower than 80% humidity. 

9. Invest in Permethrin socks

The chemical is successful in protecting against ticks, mosquitoes and other types of bites. Lymedisease.org estimates that permethrin-treated footwear offered 74 times the protection from bites.

10. Mow your lawn

Cut your grass, clean your yard, get rid of any extra firewood or wood chips. 

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