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Allergies caused by tick bites: how to avoid getting bitten
Published Wednesday, July 31, 2019 6:00AM PDT Last Updated Thursday, August 1, 2019 7:19PM PDT
They’re creepy, they’re crawly and just the sight of them makes us squirm. It’s summer and that means more people are enjoying the outdoors. But an increase in time spent outside also means an increased exposure to ticks.
Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the most common fears when it comes to ticks, but scientists believe the bite of the lone star tick, also known as Amblyomma americanum, is the cause of a very bizarre condition.
An allergic reaction sent Dean Cecil to the emergency room in 2016, where an allergist diagnosed him with an allergy to red meat.
What was the cause? A tick bite.
The culprit is called the lone star tick, and its bite can cause some people to become allergic to red meat. Cecil now carries an EpiPen and must avoid eating pork, lamb and beef.
“I used to love to grill out your hamburgers, your steaks, your ribs. Well those things are no longer on my menu,” he said.
“It’s not entirely clear to scientists why a bite from the lone star tick bite causes an allergy to the carbohydrate, alpha-gal, found in red meat, or how common this is. But it’s important to note, it doesn’t happen to everybody who’s bitten,” said Catherine Roberts, Consumer Reports health editor.
The lone star tick is found mainly in the Southeast United States and Mexico, but their habitats are spreading. The Public Health Agency of Canada cautions the species is not established in Canada and in a statement said they have detected small numbers of individual lone star ticks across several provinces, including Manitoba and Ontario, but they are likely ticks carried into Canada by migratory birds.
These creepy crawlies are making themselves known. Jason Miller found one in Winnipeg on Canada Day.
"Well I just felt something crawl across my hand," said Miller. "I could tell it was like no tick I'd ever seen in my life. It had the white dot in the middle of its back, the large white dot."
The Public Health Agency of Canada adds that they are currently studying how a warming climate could impact the lone star tick population, and identify locations in Canada that might become suitable for the tick in the future. It is anticipated that assessments of risk that this tick will become established in Canada will be available within the next year.
As for B.C., the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) does not believe lone star ticks are in the province.
Black-legged ticks spread Lyme disease which is the most common tick-borne disease. In 2017 there were 2,025 cases of the disease in Canada.
No one wants to find themselves having been bitten by a tick after a fun day outdoors, but there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk.
“One way to avoid a tick-borne infection is to prevent tick bites by always using an effective insect repellent,” said Roberts.
Consumer Reports’ tested multiple types of repellents and found that the products containing between 25-30 percent DEET are best at repelling ticks.
“You’ll want to thoroughly check yourself and others for ticks after being outside, also shower soon after you come indoors,” said Roberts.
Other tips include knowing where to expect ticks – they can even be found in your own backyard.
You should also avoid wooded brushy areas and walk in the centre of trails. When you come indoors check your body for ticks, and don’t forget to also examine your kids, clothing and your pets. For added protection toss the clothing you wore outside into the dryer on high heat for ten minutes to kill ticks that might still be hanging on.
Finally, if you find a tick on your skin, it’s important to remove it carefully. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and then pull upward with steady, even pressure.
If you experience flu-like symptoms after you suspect you’ve been bitten by a tick, visit a doctor as soon as possible.
"Just for the safety, get the word out there," said Miller.