Some ticks can spark extreme allergy with a single bite, health expert says

There's a new reason to fear ticks - and it has nothing to do with Lyme disease.

Health experts say a bite from a Lone Star tick can cause a potentially life-threatening food allergy called "alpha-gal" syndrome.

People with alpha-gal syndrome develop a severe allergy to a carbohydrate found in animal products, including red meat, milk and anything containing gelatin.


Ticks pick up the molecule from animals, such as cows and sheep, then transfer it to humans through saliva during a bite or feeding.

One single bite can spark the allergy in hours, or up to a day, according to Director of the Dr. Jane Huffman Wildlife Genetics Institute Nicole Chinnic.

Bites from Lone Star ticks, which are originated in Texas, are most commonly associated with the allergy. You can identify the Lone Star tick by the distinct white dot found on its back.

Bites from Lone Star ticks can lead to an extreme allergy.

Chinnici, who runs the "Tick Research Lab" at East Stroudsburg University, says symptoms of the allergy may vary, since reaction is dependent on the person.

"It can be mild where you just get some hives, or it can be very serious where it crosses into anaphylactic shock," she said.

This extreme allergy could stay with those affected for life. Chinnic says researchers are "still evaluating its progression.

Tips to prevent tick bites.

With tick season in full swing, remember these tips to help prevent tick bites:

  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaves
  • Wear long pants and sleeves
  • Treat clothing, boots and camping equipment with permethrin products
  • Use and EPA registered repellents
  • Always check for ticks after being outdoors

If you do believe you were exposed or bitten by a tick, Chinnici says to request a blood test from an allergist.