Tulsa Man Develops Red Meat Allergy From Tick Bite
TULSA, Oklahoma - A bite from a tick could mean taking a bite of your favorite foods could cost you your life. The Lone Star Tick can set off a red meat allergy, and one Tulsan is dealing with the potentially deadly side-effect.
Bill Armstrong makes his living in the outdoors; he's an arborist by trade. He also makes most of his memories in the wilderness as an avid hunter and horseback rider.
“Love the outdoors. Hunt fish, you name it,” Armstrong said.
Of course when you spend enough time outdoors, ticks just sort of come with the territory.
“Ya find 'em, get rid of 'em and go on,” Armstrong said.
He said he doesn't remember a Lone Star Tick biting him, but he does remember his reaction after taking a bite of a taco last October.
“Itching, hives, sweating, couldn't breathe, throat closed up,” Armstrong recalled.
It was terrifying, he said, but even a trip to the ER didn't reveal the problem. It wasn't until a second reaction a few days later, this time from a cheeseburger, that he went to an allergy clinic to get tested.
“They said, 'oh, well, you're allergic to red meat.' And I asked, I said, 'Are you sure you're looking at the right person? Because that's what I've lived on my whole life.' And they said, 'Yeah, this is you,'” Armstrong said.
He said he developed the allergy because the Lone Star Tick carries a sugar that humans don't have, and when it enters our bloodstream it essentially causes the body to reject any red meat, setting off a serious allergic reaction; the symptoms can occur as long as eight hours after eating meat.
If he eats red meat - beef, pork, venison - or anything that has been touched by red meat, it sets off the allergic reaction which could kill him.
“Kind of makes you sit back and think; something that small can have such a big effect on your life,” he said.
Armstrong's diet now consists of what he calls fins and feathers – just fish and poultry.
“Seafood's not bad, but there's only so many ways you can cook chicken and turkey,” Armstrong said laughing.
What's not funny, he said, is how serious dining out can be. Armstrong said even the slightest cross contamination is potentially deadly.
“Eating out is, you're playing Russian roulette, because not everybody handles their food the same,” he said.
For some victims, a Lone Star Tick bite can cause flare ups to dairy products.
Doctors don't know if the allergy is permanent. There is a chance some people will grow out of it, but if you get another bite, the allergy will come right back.
Allergic reactions can be treated with antihistamines to ease itching. Armstrong carries a medicine kit with an EPI shot in case of a severe reaction.