Hundreds on Long Island develop red meat allergy from tick bites

- Evelyn Blinn doesn't take a chance with what she eats because the last time she did, her throat started to close. Two years ago, the East End, Long Island, native was diagnosed with alpha-gal allergy, a potentially deadly reaction to red meat that develops after you're bitten by a lone star tick.

"When you're walking down the street or I'm walking my dogs and I smell somebody barbecuing meat on the grill, I go, 'Boy, I'd like to have one of those things'," Evelyn said. "The welts, the blotches, the rashes. And you're itching from head to toe."

Dr. Erin McGintee was the first allergist to identify the condition locally and has diagnosed close to 400 cases in her practice. She said that tick saliva gets into the bloodstream and the body can't fight the antigen. 

"People who develop the allergy are making antibodies against the tick saliva but they're making an allergy-type of antibody," Dr. McGintee said.

Just because you were bitten by a lone star tick doesn't mean you're going to develop the allergy. Experts say you can get a false positive if you test too soon after the bite. They say avoid meat as a precaution and then see an allergist.

"These patients feel completely fine when they eat the meat," she said. "Their symptoms come on hours later – anywhere from three to eight hours later."

Evelyn can never be too careful. 

"It's in everything. It's in vanilla ice cream, it's in medications," she said. "I carry a medical alert only because if God forbid I have a heart attack or stroke or an accident and they take me to the emergency room and put me on blood thinners. Blood thinners have meat products in it."

Doctors say the allergy may possibly resolve over time if the person doesn't get bitten again.

RESOURCES

ACAAI: Meat Allergy

CDC: Tickborne Diseases of the United States

CDC: Avoiding Ticks

Fox 5 News Special Report: Lyme and Reason

Fox 5: Lyme Disease Coverage

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