Tick Bite Alters Tulsa Teen's Life, Eating Habits

Sunday, September 8th 2013, 12:09 am
By: News On 6

A single tick bite has changed a Green Country teen's life forever.

Michael Farrell, 14, now suffers from a rare food allergy that prevents him from eating certain types of meat.

The Allergy Clinic of Tulsa says roughly 150 people in the city suffer from this relatively new food allergy.

The Farrell family says they are sharing their story in hopes of promoting awareness and potentially saving lives.

Throwing hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks on the grill are almost a prerequisite for summer, and up until 6 months ago the Farrell family was doing just that.

"Now I can't grab a burger or anything," Farrell said.

He suffers from a rare food allergy called alpha-galactose or "alpha-gal" for short.

It prevents him from eating red meat.

A major condition brought about by a minor insect - the Lone Star Tick.

"I felt really scared; I felt uncomfortable," Farrell said. "I didn't know what was going on."

Farrell was bitten two years ago in the backyard, but he didn't have an allergic reaction until almost 18 months later.

"He ate two pieces of pizza on Tuesday and was fine, ate two leftover pieces on Wednesday from the same pizza, and was broken out all over," Tom Farrell said.

Loretta Farrell said her son had " hives all over his body, neck, arms, chest, back, face... for 36 hours."

The cause of the allergic reaction is still unclear, but many researchers believe there's something in the tick's saliva that causes humans to develop alpha-gal antibodies.

"A tick bite can change your entire life," Loretta said. "I'm a family practice doctor and I've been practicing over 20 years, and I'd never heard of this."

Loretta said since their son has a peanut allergy as well - luckily his allergist was able to diagnose the

"If we had just gone the emergency room route, we may not have figured out for a long time," she said.

Symptoms can range from hives, headaches and nausea to anaphylaxis and lead to breathing complications and death.

Roughly 1,500 cases have been diagnosed in the last six years, mostly in the central and southern United States.

"It's very life-changing, sometimes the allergy will go away after a few years, others it's a lifelong thing," Tom Farrell said.

The Farrells cook strictly with poultry or fish now.

Some studies have shown that other ticks could cause the food allergy.

At this point there is no cure.