WARRENSBURG, Mo -- Allergy specialists in our area are seeing a growing number of people allergic to beef and pork, and they think it's caused by those people being bitten by ticks. In some cases, it's a life-threatening allergy.
A skin test helped reveal why Richard Lohe of Centerview, Missouri, suffered anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, last October.
"I thought my face was swelling up and I guess what it was, my throat was closing," said Lohe.
His wife found him passed out and called 9-1-1 just in time. He soon saw Dr. Larry Landwehr, an allergist in Warrensburg, who asked him what he'd eaten before the life-threatening reaction.
"I told him that for lunch, I had a hot roast beef sandwich," recalled Lohe.
Testing confirmed Lohe is allergic to beef and pork. The likely cause of the allergy? Tick bites. Specifically, bites from Lone Star ticks which are abundant in Missouri.
"Somehow the immune system is activated and your body begins reacting to molecules in beef and pork and other meat from mammals," said Dr. Landwehr.
The theory is that the tick harbors a sugar called Alpha-Gal. That sugar is also in meat, and in some people, a bite from the tick triggers the immune response. Unlike most food allergies, the reaction doesn't happen within minutes of eating meat.
"This red meat allergy seems to occur from three to six hours later, so it's difficult to figure out," said Dr. Landwehr.
The doctor says it's unclear whether it takes just one tick bite or multiple ones. Also unclear is the time frame after tick bites for developing the allergy. The allergist says he now sees two to three patients a month who are newly allergic to beef and pork. He had photos of one patient's hives.
"People need to be aware that this is a new type of allergy out there and anybody that has unexplained severe allergic symptoms, this may be a consideration," said Dr. Landwehr.
Lohe said, "It's kinda hard to believe, but I quit eating beef and pork and I haven't had any problems."
Lohe keeps an epinephrine pen handy in case he accidentally swallows anything with that meat in it. He says he'd had hives occasionally before the life-threatening reaction.
Dr. Landwehr says there are a few reports of the allergy going away. Lohe will be tested soon to see if he still has to avoid beef and pork.