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Talking Points: A tick that can take a major bite out of your diet

Talking Points: A tick that can take a major bite out of your diet (part 1)
Talking Points: A tick that can take a major bite out of your diet (part 1) 09:19

MINNEAPOLIS -- An insect bite could keep you from your favorite dishes and hygiene items. 

Most of us are familiar with Lyme disease -- a tick-borne illness that can be debilitating. It's caused by a bite from a deer tick, also known as a blacklegged tick.

But there is a different tick you need to be aware of whose bite can trigger a serious, sometimes fatal, allergic condition. The lone star tick is distinctive because of the gold spot on its back.

A bite from the lone star tick could lead to Alpha-gal syndrome, a potentially life-threatening allergy toward meat -- including beef and pork -- as well as dairy products. 

RELATED: How prevalent is the lone star tick in Minnesota?

In Talking Points, Esme Murphy looks at this threat that is often misdiagnosed.  

Talking Points: A tick that can take a major bite out of your diet (part 2) 06:52

Andy Birkey, a professional wildlife photographer, spent much of the pandemic in northern Minnesota taking pictures. One day he became violently ill and didn't get better. Two years and four doctors later, Birkey was diagnosed with Alpha-gal syndrome. Since then, his diet and life has changed dramatically.

"Alpha-gal isn't isn't a disease, per se, it's actually a sugar molecule," said Elizbeth Schiffman, the supervisor of the Vector-Borne Diseases Unit at the Minnesota Department of Health. "So most mammals have it in their system, but humans do not. So a lot of the things we eat have it -- so cows have it, pigs have it, a lot of other meats and things have it in them. So what happens is, when people get exposed to this sugar molecule, it's not something that we have as part of our natural kind of system. And so it can cause an allergic reaction in people."

The territory for lone star ticks has traditionally been the southern and midcentral states -- now with warming temperatures, the lone star tick is creeping north, according to the CDC.  

Local experts are seeing the occasional sighting of these ticks.

Janet Jarnefeld, Tick Vector Services with the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, says these ticks have been found in wooded parts of Minnesota.  

Talking Points: A tick that can take a major bite out of your diet (part 3) 05:45

"If you consider us compared with, say the eastern United States that has more human population, we have a lot more wilderness so to speak," Jarnefeld said. "In other areas, like if you think about somewhere like Nebraska, or Illinois or South Dakota for various reasons, they don't have much longer kinds of grass or trees or shrubs, that kind of habitat. That's good for the ticks. Also for the mammals that the techs have to utilize as a host to feed on."  

Birkey and Jarnefeld recommend spraying permethrin on your clothes to repeal ticks. They also recommend tucking your pants into socks and also checking yourself and your children immediately after coming out of the woods. 

Finally, Murphy spoke with Dr. Hannah Lichtsinn about the timeline between a lone star bite and when you'll first see symptoms.

"We don't have a good sense of the timeline from a tick bite until development of the Alpha-gal syndrome. What I can say, is when people do develop Alpha gal syndrome, that it generally comes like two to four hours after eating meat, so it's not an immediate response to the meat. You think about a bee sting or someone who has a bee allergy, that allergic reaction happens right away. With Alpha-gal, it's delayed a few hours."

Talking Points airs every Wednesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., live on CBS News Minnesota.

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