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Bug Bites Can Turn You Vegetarian

Have you heard about the bug bite that can turn you into a vegetarian? That story made the front page of my browser this week, and my wife heard it as part of a newsbreak on her favorite Christian radio station.

It seems researchers believe that a large number of people who have developed allergic reactions to red meat acquired the allergy after being bitten by a tick. According to University of Virginia researchers, “Of the over 1,500 people who have now reported meat allergies to the researchers, at least 90% say they were bitten by ticks in the weeks preceding their allergic reaction.” (See the story here.)

The cases are located in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Allergy clusters have been reported in Pennsylvania and New York as well.

The researchers believe the Lone Star Tick is producing an immune response to alpha-gal in humans, which causes the allergic reaction to meat. The allergy presents itself 4-6 hours after consumption of beef, pork or lamb and the symptoms can vary from hives to anaphylactic shock. There’s speculation that this allergy could be caused by a new organism found in the saliva of these bugs. Researchers don’t have a lot of answers at this point, but it appears the allergy lasts 3-5 years and can be even more severe if the subject is bitten again.

I can just see the radical anti-meat advocates heading out to propagate or capture and release these ticks in hopes of furthering their agenda. I’ve been reading lately about the risks from bioterrorism. Thankfully, these activists aren’t typically the type to be burdened with science, let alone the ability to spend time in a lab, but it remains a scary thought that a tiny bite from a bug could turn one from being a meat lover to a vegetarian.

If nothing else I’m sure we’ll see advocacy to get that tick listed on the endangered species list so that there will be plenty of the species to bite meat-loving humans. Personally, I’d be all for a full-out eradication program – I’m talking about ticks, of course, not members of PETA or HSUS.

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