Oklahoma Woman Develops Meat Allergy After Tick Bite
TULSA, Oklahoma - More and more people are finding out they're allergic to red meat, and doctors believe the one thing many of them have in common are tick bites.
What makes the diagnosis particulary scary is you don't know you have it - until you have a reaction.
Being outdoors is a way of life for Madison Berryhill and her family, but hidden in the beauty of the Oklahoma wild are tiny ticks that can cause big problems.
"We go camping a lot," Madison said. "You get a tick bite and you don't really think about it - you pick it off and go."
Sounds simple enough, but Madison soon discovered a Lone Star tick bite wasn't so easy to forget.
"I started breaking out in hives and ended up in the ER - none of us could figure out what the heck is going on," Madison said.
Turns out the tick bite caused an allergy to red meat called Alpha-Gal syndrome, and researchers like Dr. Scott Commins say the number of patients infected keeps growing.
"This has become the biggest cause of new onset food allergy and anaphylaxis in adults," Dr. Scott Commins said.
Doctors say there are more than 3,000 cases nationwide right now from Oklahoma to the east coast, and the numbers keep growing with the tick population.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in areas like Mohawk Park where the Lone Star tick is common, up to five percent of people bitten could develop an allergy to red meat."
"I had a hamburger with my friends and later on that evening I woke up in the middle of the night covered in hives," said Matt Beres.
Matt Beres has been hospitailized several times since being diagnosed with the same red meat allergy six years ago. He says the illness impacts his life every day - especially because he's a chef.
Doctors say the Alpha-Gal syndrome is not like other allergies. They say instead of symptoms coming on minutes after eating red meat, it could take up to eight hours for the itching and hives to start.
"Some people even have to carry Benadryl with them just in case. It's typically not the type of allergy that would close off the throat, but it's enough to scare you and make you miserable," said Dr. Lacy Anderson.
Scientists believe lone star ticks pick up Alpha-Gal after biting a deer. When the tick then passes it along to people, it can make them allergic to beef, lamb, venison and pork.
"Your hands and feet start itching and turning red and breaking out in hives," said Madison Berryhill.
Matt and Madison's doctors say it's better to be safe than sorry, so both now have to carry an epi-pen wherever they go.
"Thank God I love to watch people eat and watch their faces light up, so that's the joy I get out of it," said Matt Beres.