Annals of Weird: Beef Allergy Linked to Tick Bite

On the heels of a study saying beef preserves muscle mass comes news of a bizarre new threat: tick-induced beef allergy.

Tuesday was a good news/bad news day in the world of beef. On the one hand, a study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism showed that for middle-aged men, eating more red meat helps maintain body muscle that routinely declines with age. Okay, okay, there are a couple of caveats: It has to be lean red meat, and you have to do resistance exercises a couple of times a week to see the benefit. Still, beef lovers should find the news, um, heartening, since they’ve typically been cautioned to cut down on their meat intake. The study out of McMaster University’s Exercise Metabolism Research Group showed that men in their 40s and 50s who ate six ounces of lean beef and lifted weights wound up with more muscle mass than those who consumed no beef or lesser amounts. Um, did we mention the study was partially funded by the beef industry?

Here’s a story that wasn’t: Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal ran a classic news-terror tale about “the voracious lone star tick,” which is inducing allergies to beef, pork and lamb in people who’ve been happily gnawing at those meats for years. Here’s how it works: A tick bites you, and some weeks or months later, when you’re noshing a grill-fired hamburger, symptoms—everything from vomiting to hives to anaphylaxis—suddenly emerge, seemingly out of no where. The link between tick and steak frequently goes undetected, the WSJ reports, because of the sometimes lengthy lag time between the bite and onset of symptoms.

The first cases were reported in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2007, and others have since been found in eastern Long Island, New York, and as far north as Nantucket, Massachusetts. The suddenly stricken report waking up covered in frantically itchy hives after consuming red meat. One poor guy had breakfast at McDonalds’ and dinner at Burger King on the same fateful day. “Six hours later, to the minute, I was lying in bed and suddenly had a really bad itch on my head, then my armpit, then my side,” Robert Herrman told the Journal. “I told my wife, I know this is crazy, but you have to call an ambulance. My whole body just felt wrong.”

No fatalities have been reported—yet. “The tick connection was completely unexpected,” according to Susan Little, a parasitologist at Oklahoma State who’s been studying the critters. One faint ray of hope for outdoorsy types who want to maintain that muscle: In some victims, the allergy fades after several years, so long as they don’t get bitten again.

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