Lone Star Tick causing meat allergies in central Virginia

About 1,000 people have been affected by a meat allergy due to the tick, researchers say. Photo: Flickr/b_nicodemus

What began as a medical mystery has now developed into a full-blown food allergy, as the effects of a series of mysterious tick bites are making doctors across Virginia scratch their heads.

The allergy concerns people throughout the Commonwealth who have been bitten by the Lone Star Tick. People who are affected have found themselves totally unable to consume red meat.

That's something a large number of people don't think they could live without.

"My life would be over if I couldn't eat red meat," Alexandria resident David Kudlow said. "If I couldn't have steak, I probably wouldn't want to live much longer."

Researchers from the University of Virginia say they've linked a sudden onset of meat allergies to the bite of the tick, which is formally named amblyomma americanum and is commonly found in Virginia. Experts say they've counted 1,000 cases so far, mostly located in central Virginia.

The most puzzling part of the sudden breakout of this specific allergy is the delayed reaction that people seem to have to the tick bite.

"You do not get hives until four hours, and you have no idea how strange that is for us as allergists," University of Virginia researcher Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills said. "It's a completely new form of food allergy in which you eat beef or pork or lamb, and three or four hours later, you develop hives."

The hives people with the meat allergy develop aren't docile, either - doctors and patients say they burn and itch with a fiery intensity. In fact, bestselling author John Grisham spent years trying to unwrap the mystery of his sudden and painful allergy to meat.

He just recently, learned, though, that it very likely came from a tick bite he received on his plantation near Charlottesville.

Researchers are continuing to study the effects of this tick-allergy link. Meanwhile, they're urging people to keep an extra close eye out for the tiny insects, which can be kept away with DEET-based skin repellent.