Lone Star tick alarms meat lovers

The insect is rare in Canada so there is little threat of developing an allergy to meat after being bitten: researchers

Despite recent concerns over the presence of ticks that can cause people to become allergic to red meat, there’s little Canadian producers and consumers need to worry about, say researchers.

For one thing, there aren’t any reported cases of Lone Star ticks breeding in Canada, according to Shaun Dergousoff, a research scientist with Agriculture Canada in Lethbridge, Alta.

“It’s very rare to find a Lone Star tick,” he said.

Plus, the red meat allergy the ticks can trigger in humans is about as common as a peanut allergy, which affects only 0.1 percent of the American population, he added.

“Even if we did have an endemic population, a low proportion of people will get this allergy.”

But that hasn’t stopped some from panicking .

Earlier this summer, concerns were raised after researchers in the Maritimes and Ontario reported that since 2012 they have come across roughly five Lone Stars, which are named after the small white star that’s found on the back of females.

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The Lone Star’s bite could cause susceptible humans to produce alpha-gal, an antibody they once didn’t have, roughly one to three months after they were bitten. The alpha-gal negatively reacts when red meat, gelatin or milk products are consumed.

Humans who get the allergy usually become sensitive to red meat one two three months after the bite. Symptoms, which are usually seen two to 10 hours after a meal, can produce hives or swelling. Serious and potentially life-threatening reactions can also occur.

However, the ticks aren’t re-producing in Canada and, if they’re found, they’ve usually arrived on travellers or animals from the eastern and mid-western United States, which is where many Lone Stars breed. Nymphs can also travel via birds.

“They’re way low on the list of worries,” said Janet Sperling, a PhD candidate at the department of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, noting she’s seen the occasional Lone Star tick.

“Though it’s really unlikely to get this allergy, it’s something we should all be aware of. If you see one, you should identify and submit it.”

Dergousoff agreed that it’s not something we need to be afraid of, but noted “we can’t ignore the risk in the future.”

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Currently, the Public Health Agency of Canada is studying how Lone Star populations might move north as the climate warms. The agency plans to identify locations in Canada where the ticks could survive, and it expects to publish results sometime in 2018.

“To date, we have detected small numbers of individual lone star ticks in the environment in several provinces,” said Maryse Durette, a spokesperson for the agency, in an email. “However, the risk of exposure to these ticks is very low and, as a result, development of an allergy from these bites would also be very low.”

As for cattle producers, Dergousoff said he hasn’t seen demands for meat in the U.S decrease due to Lone Star populations.

“I can’t really say it affects the bottom line,” he said. “In any reading I’ve done, it hasn’t come up as something that’s been an issue for profitability or demand.

“So, continue to enjoy the outdoors while taking precautions against ticks, and enjoy Canadian beef.”

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  • Heather Moore

    A meat allergy is a good thing! The meat industry really ticks me off for contributing to life-threatening health problems, as well as animal suffering and environmental degradation. No deaths have been reported due to the allergy, but the same can’t be said for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other conditions that have been linked to meat consumption. The ticks may have already saved thousands of lives, both human and animal.

    • Spencer

      That would be processed meats cause those problems so it is not the meat but what they put in the meat. I lost weight eating meat. I was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic in 2009 when I was 13. I was put on two types of insulin-one that was short acting-taken after each meal and the other long acting taken twice a day. I was on a strict schedule of when to eat and how many carbs per meal. I was very hungry and so I would eat meat b/c it has no carbs. It was from our own animals, butchered at a local abattoir. The pepperoni sticks that I was eating was actually meat and spice. I lost 20lbs in 2 weeks. Management is a concern that has been changing over the years. Many farms now have procedures and practices in place to reduce the amount of manure run off as well as managing their pastures. Some are better than others. There is nothing immoral about eating an animal. It is not a human. There is a big difference. More and more, new and better ways to handle animals are being taught and implemented in farms across Canada. I am currently in an Ag Science program where we have a handling, welfare class that teaches low-stress handling of animals. You may choose to not eat meat but others do not have an issue doing so. This is not a barbaric practice. Meat is very good for women who are anemic. They also contain vitamins and other nutrients that are not as readily available in other food sources. I wish I could remember where the article is that talks about the essential nutrients that beef contains.
      Also, your good canned soup will cause more heart disease than meat. Just look at the sodium content of store-made soups or the chips.