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Ticks on Australia’s eastern seaboard are thought to be causing a rapid rise in Mammalian Meat Allergies (MMA). Because apparently there aren’t enough deadly species in Australia already.
Although uncommon, it IS possible to become allergic to red meat. That means no snags, no steaks, no bacon and certainly no sneaky kebabs after a night out.
Barely even heard of a few years ago, around two cases of MMA are now diagnosed a week on the east coast, ranging as far north as Noosa and as south as Victoria. Australia in fact has the highest prevalence of MMA in the world. So while you’re worrying about bindis, snakes and sunburn this summer, make sure to also stress about ticks removing all meat-fueled joy from your life.
According to Associate Professor and Clinical Immunologist Sheryl van Nunen, MMA is caused when a person’s immune system reacts to a complex passed into your body during a tick bite.
Usually when a tick bites you it injects some anaesthetic (ticks are considerate like that), as well as a bit of whatever they last fed on. If their last meal was anything other than human, the blood would contain a sugar called alpha-gal.
This sugar is found in basically every mammal besides humans and great apes, but is usually harmless enough. Every time we eat red meat, we consume alpha-gal. But when it’s been combined with the tick protein during a bite, your immune system can get confused and also start attacking the alpha-gal. Meaning anytime you go to eat mammalian meat your body goes into what could be delicately described as an immuno-hissy fit. I.e. anaphylaxis.
Van Nunen speculates that the rates of MMA might be even higher than thought, due to undiagnosed cases. Low grade mammalian meat allergies can simply appear like a stomach upset.
“If you think you had a funny meal every so often, then it might be worth your while taking meat out of the diet and see if those symptoms disappear. Then you should put it back in and see if those symptoms reappear.”
So how do you make sure you’re not forcibly turned vegetarian?
The best way to remain tick free is to avoid tick infested areas (thanks Captain Obvious). That means all coastal bush land, and up to 100km inland.
If that’s your jam though, you can still avoid tick bites by being prepared. Wear light-coloured, long sleeved shirts and pants and coat them with Permethrin if possible (available at camping stores). Use insect repellent containing either DEET or picaridin on your skin and check for ticks after bush-walking.
If you’re still unlucky enough to get bitten, van Nunen recommends using a spray with ether in it to essentially freeze the tick before brushing it off. Don’t use tweezers, you’re just squeezing tick guts into yourself (I mean unless you enjoy that, I’m not your mum).
Play it safe this summer kids, and remember Associate Professor Sheryl van Nunen’s advice:
“Freeze it, don’t squeeze it”