Meat lovers, beware! A mysterious meat allergy is spreading across parts of the United States. In this month's pest profile, we're taking a look at the pest responsible; the lone star tick.
Despite its name, the lone star tick is found mainly in the southeastern part of the U.S. and attacks more frequently than any other tick species in that area. It gets its name from the single silvery-white spot on the female's back.
Lone star ticks are usually a reddish-brown color but turn slate gray when engorged. Adults have oval, flattened bodies and eight legs. Females are about ¼ of an inch in size, and the males are even smaller. They are known as three-host ticks, which means they take a blood meal from different hosts in the three stages of their lifespans. Popular hosts for lone star ticks include cattle, dogs, horses, squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, and white-tailed deer.
The lone star tick is known to bite humans and can carry many dangerous diseases. According to the CDC, a bite from a lone star tick often results in a circular rash accompanied by fatigue, headache, fever, and muscle pains. This condition is known as southern tick-associated rash illness or "STARI." Lone star ticks are not known to transmit Lyme disease; however, people with STARI often develop a rash similar to that of Lyme disease.
Heartland virus is another disease associated with the lone star tick. Identified in 2012, symptoms of this virus include fatigue, appetite loss, upset stomach, muscle ache, fever, and diarrhea.
Another condition thought to be connected to the lone star tick is a severe red meat allergy called alpha-gal syndrome or "AGS." The alpha-gal molecule is found in the muscles and fat of most mammals, except for humans. Trace amounts can even make it into dairy products or gelatin derived from animals. Allergic reactions include hives and stomach troubles to full-on anaphylaxis hours after eating pork or beef. Unlike most food allergy symptoms, an AGS reaction often doesn't happen immediately after eating.
First discovered in 2009, researchers connected AGS to the lone star tick, given that early cases were centered around the southeastern region of the United States. As of 2018, an estimated 34,000 cases have been reported. There is currently no treatment for AGS itself.
Lone star ticks are most active on warm days in late spring and early summer, so it's important to take precautions if spending time outside. Here are some preventative recommendations to protect yourself and your family members from all ticks:
Thankfully, lone star ticks can't survive indoors. If you find one in your home, it was probably carried in on a pet or human and then dropped off when fully engorged. Be sure to properly dispose of it as it can still spread disease or reattach to another host.
We recommend using tweezers to put the tick into a tightly sealed or plastic zip closure bag or dropping it in a small container with alcohol. Do not crush or squeeze the tick because it can still spread disease. If you or a family member may have been bitten by it and develop a rash or other symptoms, contact your medical provider immediately.
If you suspect an infestation or notice lots of lone star ticks in your yard, contact Pestech of Greenville. Give us a call at 252-353-4760 or email PestechOfGreenville@hotmail.com to get started. We're here to help you have a fun, safe, and tick-free summer!