The lone star tick is known to give victims a life-threatening meat allergy.
If the thought of never being able to eat bacon again makes you squirm, try the thought of never being able to eat bacon again...because you were bitten by a tick.
Nope, it's not the plot of a bad horror movie. There really is a tick out there whose bite will leave you with a severe meat allergy—one so intense, it completely rewires your immune system and renders you completely incapable of enjoying any kind of red meat ever again. After tasting even the tiniest bite of a hamburger, its victims experience terrible side effects.
It gets worse: As of now, there isn't a known cure.
Most recently, the lone star tick (named for the star-shaped pattern on its back) has been running rampant in Duluth Minnesota, Hanover, New Hampshire, and parts of Long Island, but it's been around for years. Now, with new cases being reported regularly, scientists are trying to find out exactly what's causing the tick to spread, or if there's actually another species causing all of these new cases.
So, how did all of this get discovered?
We have immunologist Thomas Platts-Mills, who works at the University of Virginia, and his colleague Scott Commins to thank for figuring out the link between the tick bite and the meat allergy. They've screened dozens of meat allergy patients over the years, and discovered that 80 percent of those people also reported a tick bite. According to Wired's report, they were also able to figure out that "something in the tick’s saliva hijacks humans’ immune systems, red-flagging alpha-gal, and triggering the massive release of histamines whenever red meat is consumed."
“There’s something really special about this tick,” Jeff Wilson, an asthma, allergy, and immunology fellow in Platts-Mills’ group, told the outlet. “Just a few bites and you can render anyone really, really allergic."
Platts-Mills' team is now working to figure out whether this could turn into a public health crisis—and they're busily communicating and documenting new cases all the time.
In the meantime, we'll enjoy all the burgers we can just to be safe.