Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Texas Tick That Can Turn You Into A Vegetarian

The Lone Star Tick

Imagine sinking your teeth into a big, juicy burger or thick sirloin steak, then hours later your lips and tongue swell up even as your skin erupts in a rash that burns as it itches. Soon, your breathing passages begin to close up and they need to rush you to the ER for treatment.  So what exactly was it?

Some time later tests reveal a tick was the culprit, the "Lone Star Tick" - captured in the image shown. Another 'gift' from Texas like Gee Dumbya.  Unlike Bushie boy, who was put out to pasture 6 years ago, this tick promises to be around a long time especially as climate change worsens. (Of course, with ramped up climate change all kinds of other vermin will also dog us including: dengue fever mosquitoes, parasitic worms that invade brains, schistosomiasis and so on.)

The tick and its effects were discovered several years ago, and its influence is growing as the critter spreads from the Southwest to the Southeast, the East and other parts of the nation.  Incredibly, as this little monster wreaks its havoc,  few people seem to be aware of the risk and doctors have been slow to recognize or diagnose it. Encapsulating the mystification of the medical profession is this comment from an allergist:

"Why would someone think they're allergic to meat when they've been eating it their whole life?"

Indeed! But now the culprit has been tracked down: the Lone Star Tick, named for Texas - a state famous for meaty barbecues and also weasel Presidents like LBJ and George W. Bush - both of whom led us into unjustified wars (Vietnam, Iraq).  Meanwhile, now that a number of high profile cases have emerged, doctors are becoming more informed of the symptoms.

One such case involved Lois Danzig, a 63-year old retired nurse from Montauk, Long Island. As reported in yesterday's Denver Post (p. 16A), hours after eating a burger she woke up with swollen hands that "were on fire and itching". As she headed downstairs to try to call 911, she reported that:

"I could feel my lips and tongue were getting swollen"  adding that:

 "By the time I made a phone call for help I was losing my ability to speak and my airway was closing."

So in some respects it imitates what happens when certain people react to bee stings. Which leads us to inquire how this reaction occurs, at least from the tick.  The research thus far shows the Lone Star tick harbors a sugar that human lack, called alpha-gal. The sugar is also found in red meat and even some dairy products.

Research also shows it's okay if people encounter the sugar through food that gets digested, where the amounts introduced into the bloodstream can be controlled. But a tick bite is different, since it triggers an immune system response. In such a high alert state, the victim's body perceives the sugar suddenly introduced into the bloodstream as a foreign substance and makes antibodies to fight it. This then sets the stage for an allergic reaction the next time the person eats red meat (beef, pork, venison, rabbit) and encounters the sugar.

Can the allergic reaction remain and keep people off red meats indefinitely?  Doctors still don't know but assert that some patients show signs of "declining antibodies" over time.  One medical expert, a Dr. Scott Commins quoted in the Post piece, observes:

"The meat allergy does not appear to be lifelong, but the caveat is that additional tick bites can bring it back."

Making a fairly good case to avoid red meats in tick dominated regions.

Of course, if the massive spread of meat allergies forced millions to go vegan it might well be a beneficial thing. We already know, for example, that 14 to 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2 equivalent" greenhouse gases the world releases each year can be attributed to meat production, consumption, see e.g.

If this tick can have a hand in getting us to stop chomping on so many burgers then it might lower CO2 loads enough to give our kids more years to try to adjust to the ravaging heat on the way - as well as the melting glaciers, and polar vortices - before the first year of no seasons.

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