A second rare tick that is known to cause a permanent allergy to meat in humans has appeared in Canada in a matter of weeks.
Jason Miller noticed the unique-looking tick on his hand after he came home from a walk around Willow Lake Park in Winnipeg on Canada Day.
“I just felt something crawl across my hand,” he told CTV News Winnipeg on Thursday. “When I took a close look at it, I could tell it was like no tick I had ever seen in my life. It had a white dot in the middle of its back.”
It turns out the arachnid on Miller’s hand was a Lone Star tick – so called for its distinctive white spot on its back. This particular species is primarily found in the southeastern United States and Mexico, but they have been sighted more often in northern states and in Canada in recent years.
The Lone Star tick has gained attention for its ability to cause people to develop an allergy to red meat, or alpha-gal, more specifically, which is a carbohydrate found in red meat. Allergic reactions to the carbohydrate can include hives, skin rash, vomiting, and diarrhea.
There is no known cure to the allergy and those who develop the allergy are advised to avoid red meat.
Miller said he was concerned about the female Lone Star tick he discovered crawling across his hand, even though it didn’t bite him.
“I’m aware of the diseases, the terrible diseases, that these particular types of ticks carry,” he said.
Kateryn Rochon, an associate professor of entomology at the University of Manitoba, said not all Lone Star ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause monocytic ehrlichiosis, the infection that triggers the meat allergy.
“The allergy does not occur with all bites, and while we know what people become allergic to, we don’t have a good grasp of what causes some Lone Star ticks to cause this allergy,” she said. “Only a small proportion of the human population is susceptible to developing this allergy.”
It’s not the first time a Lone Star tick has been spotted in Manitoba, and while rare, Rochon said they are usually found in the province every year. However, she said these ticks are often transplants from the United States that are carried on migratory birds.
“There’s no evidence so far that these ticks have established here, or that we have local populations,” she said.
A Manitoba spokesperson said there have been between zero and two cases of Lone Star ticks voluntarily reported to the province since 2015.
Veterinarian Ron Worb echoed that sentiment when he said he hasn’t come across one of the ticks on any of the pets he treats at Winnipeg’s Anderson Animal Hospital this year.
“It’s not anywhere in the same numbers or frequency as the deer tick,” he explained.
Although sightings are rare, another Lone Star tick was spotted only a week ago in southern Ontario. A veterinary clinic in London, Ont. sounded the alarm about the arachnid after it was discovered on a woman’s cat.
It was determined the cat had not travelled anywhere far and must have acquired the tick locally.
Unlike the deer tick, Lone Star ticks don’t carry Lyme disease, which can cause mild flu-like symptoms or more serious symptoms such as paralysis, muscle aches, and neurological and heart disorders if left untreated.
That doesn’t mean, however, that people shouldn’t take precautions, Rochon warned.
“There is no need to panic,” she added. “Adopting safe habits to prevent tick bites will protect from all species of ticks.”
Some of those precautions include, using tick repellants, conducting frequent tick checks, especially after an outdoor activity, wearing long sleeves, and immediately removing any ticks that are attached on the skin.
To properly remove a tick embedded in the skin, the Public Health Agency of Canada advisesusing tweezers to carefully grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly upward while avoiding crushing or twisting the tick.