Lone Star Ticks migrating towards the metro are bringing serious health concerns along

LENEXA, Kan. -- Healthcare professionals say it's spreading.

The Lone Star Tick is migrating west, and, as it does, the pest brings some serious health concern with it, including symptoms that can be fatal.

The tick is gradually moving into the Kansas City metro, and it's said to be coming from Appalachia and the deep south. Healthcare professionals say it can be found nearly anywhere there's high grass, and, if not treated, it can make people very sick. Medical staffers at the University of Kansas Health System say symptoms can be life-threatening.

"I was very sick for a long time," Kelly Plaas told FOX 4 News.

Plaas, who was bitten by a tick in the summer of 2014, says she didn't know she was sick at first. She says she was bitten while participating in outdoor activities, as she's involved in nature photography and golf.

"I'd had meat for dinner, and within four or five hours, I woke up in the middle of the night. I had a burning feeling going through my body," she recalled.

That was three years ago, and Plaas remembered being bitten by many ticks, one of which was likely the Lone Star Tick. Public health officials say that microorganism got its name from the single white speck on its back. Plaas' doctors diagnosed her with Alpha Gal Allergy, a condition that left her with an aversion to meat or any product that comes from one.

"It started at my feet, and I felt like I was burning. It went through my body and I broke out in sweat and hives," Plaas described.

Plaas says she also breaks out in hives, her throat swells, and sometimes, she, like many Alpha Gal Allergy sufferers, has difficulty breathing. Plaas also operates a Facebook group for people who fight Alpha Gal, many of whom have been bitten by the bug, which tends to live in areas with high grass.

"As the tick spreads to our area, we're going to see an upswing in this," Dr. Selina Gierer, an immunologist with the University of Kansas Health System, said on Thursday.

Dr. Gierer says the typical safeguards will work against the Lone Star Tick -- using insect repellent and wearing long pants and sleeves. If not treated, Dr. Gierer says the symptoms can be life-threatening. Patients who believe they may be infected should see a doctor immediately, and Dr. Gierer says EpiPens can help patients receive temporary relief.

"Anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction can cause a drop in blood pressure, passing out, severe throat-tightening, wheezing, chest symptoms that are similar to asthma. This can all happen very quickly and can be life-threatening," Dr. Gierer said.

"All I can tell people is protect yourself. Protect your family and don't get bit. That's my advice," Plaas said.

The Lenexa Parks Department is doing its best to fight ticks, including the ones that spread Alpha Gal. Logan Wagler, that department's assistant director, says his workers try to keep grass mowed low, to give ticks fewer places to nest. Wagler says most parks also have signs that remind people to wear bug sprays.

Dr. Gierer says symptoms can wear off, including the allergy to meat, but it takes time. Plaas says three years after her tick bite, she's getting some relief, but she still avoids meat, since the chances of the occasional flare-up is still there.