Could tick bites and red meat allergies have a common link? Quite possibly, according to allergists at a practice in Sydney, New South Wales. They discovered that a group of patients who'd experienced a rare allergic reaction to meat also had a significant reaction to a tick bite in their medical history. The doctors believe the two allergies may share some type of unusual cross-reactivity.

The allergists who came to this conclusion are affiliated with Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, which is located in an area known for a large number of several tick species. As a result, tick bites are relatively common among the local population. What's less common, though, is having a reaction to these tick bites. However, in the case of the 25 patients who had a serious allergic response to red meat, 24 of them also reported having a significant reaction to a tick bite whose description matches that of the paralysis variety. This is the most common type of tick that exists, and its bite is also known for causing hypersensitivity in some victims.

The red meat that sparked the subsequent allergy in the patients varied but included beef, lamb, pork, and game. Some of the patients had reactions to several of these types of meat. The symptoms they experienced included swelling of the mouth and tongue, throat closing, and shortness of breath.

Connecting the Dots

To help determine if the connection between tick bite reactions and a red meat reaction is truly significant or could be a coincidence, the allergists contacted other patients with food allergies to things other than red meat. The purpose was to find out if they experienced similar tick bite reactions. Out of 29 control patients, all had experienced tick bites in the past but none had had any reaction to it. This fact further supports the idea that people who are sensitive to a tick bite may also become sensitive to red meat, while people without a tick reaction don't react to meat.

The doctors hypothesized that the connection could stem from the tick's saliva, which in certain patients sensitizes them to have a cross-reaction to the protein in certain meats. These findings were included in the Medical Journal of Australia in May of 2009.

What This Means for You                                   

If you have an allergic reaction to any type of meat, it would certainly be worth exploring whether you've suffered a tick bite recently, and if so, whether you had a reaction. In addition, if you're bitten by a tick the future and notice any allergic signs, such as hives, swelling, itching, and pain, document your symptoms and be sure to mention them to your doctor. Keep in mind that of the 25 patients who experienced this problem, none of them had a life threatening reaction. Nonetheless, don't take any chances. If you have any serious symptoms after eating meat, always use an EpiPen if you have one and seek emergency medical care immediately.

Prevention Matters

Of course, your best bet is to try to avoid ticks entirely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using an insect repellent with DEET in it, avoiding heavily wooded or grassy areas (where ticks commonly live), wearing light-colored clothes outdoors so you can see any ticks that cling to them, and covering up your skin as much as possible. When you come inside, be sure to inspect your clothes, hair, and body as ticks can easily burrow in these areas.


Australian Medical Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Medical Journal of Australia

US National Library of Medicine