The lone star tick can trigger an allergic reaction to red meat in those bitten. Now this arachnid’s territory is expanding.
One night in 2008, Deborah Fleshman awoke in her bed to find that her legs had turned beetroot red. Welts, some a foot wide, had appeared along her torso.
Ms. Fleshman, a nurse at the time, had earlier that evening hosted a cookout at her home in Greenwood, Del., a town of about 1,000 people 25 miles south of Dover. She drank a couple of beers. She ate a cheeseburger.
Ms. Fleshman, now 60, is among the thousands of Americans diagnosed with alpha-gal syndrome, an allergic reaction to mammal meats like pork, beef and lamb, which growing evidence shows can be triggered by a tick bite.
“It feels like you’re on fire, and then it feels like you slept with a cactus,” she said. “The itching is unbearable.”
Researchers have traced the syndrome to the lone star tick, named for the signature white splotch, or “lone star,” on females’ backs. They’re historically found in the southern United States, but increasingly, these arachnids are being spotted in parts of the Midwest and the Northeast.