Ticks are incredibly dangerous, and they’re quite scary when you think about it. Their bites can lead to all sorts of medical problems, and they’re so small that people often don’t notice them on their bodies—until it’s too late.
The disease most commonly associated with these insects is Lyme disease, but it’s important to remember that they pose other threats, too. Even if they don’t kill you, the effects from being bitten by a tick can last an entire lifetime.
Take the Lone Star tick, for example, which is named after the telltale mark on its back. It goes without saying that you never want to be any tick’s host, but this one in particular will change who you are—and how you eat—forever.
Meet the Lone Star tick, also known as the Northeastern water tick or by its scientific name, Amblyomma americanum. It’s identified by the unique spot on its back, and it’s found all throughout the Midwest, East, and Southeast regions of the United States.
It’s always important to check yourself for ticks if you’ve been exposed to the wilderness, because these little critters are bad news for all sorts of reasons, including Lyme disease. The Lone Star tick, however, is especially dangerous. That’s because it carries a special kind of sugar in its body called alpha-gal.
Humans no longer produce this sugar thanks to evolution, though it’s found in all red meat, pork, and some dairy products. And therein lies the problem: some people are allergic to alpha-gal, and the side effects to a tick bite will make them a, well, different person altogether. Here’s how…
When a Lone Star tick bites a human, it injects this special alpha-gal sugar into the victim’s body. The human immune system naturally responds to the bite by creating antibodies to fight the foreign substance. That’s when something strange happens…
“Gimme some sugar!”
From that moment on, whenever that person eats any meat that contains the alpha-gal sugar, a severe allergic reaction occurs. As a result, the Lone Star tick’s victims are essentially forced into a life of semi-vegetarianism. (Thankfully, they can still safely eat fish and poultry.) It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s a shame for anyone who enjoys a nice steak!
Due to the spread of white-tailed deer, Lone Star ticks have expanded from their native habitats in the southern United States to as far north as Maine. So be careful out there, and make sure to always check yourself for ticks!
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