Lone Star Tick Can Cause a Lifelong Allergy to Red Meat

Lone star tick on arm

May 17, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Cristina Cicogna, M.D.

There’s been an uptick in cases across the country of people being bitten by the lone star tick. 

The most unusual fact about this new miscreant? A bite can cause you to have a lifelong allergic reaction to red meat. 

Cristina Cicogna, M.D., chief of infectious diseases at Hackensack University Medical Center shares what to know about the lone star tick and how to stay safe as we venture outdoors this spring and summer.

Are lone star tick bites dangerous?

A bite from one of these ticks will likely cause a circular rash, and can transmit various diseases including: 

  • Alpha-gal syndrome - the tick’s bite transfers a sugar molecule called alpha-gal, which your body begins to recognize as an intruder. Since red meat has alpha-gal sugars, this can rarely trigger an allergic reaction months later when red meat is consumed.
  • Ehrlichiosis - causes fever, headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Tularemia - accompanied by a fever, this can cause a skin ulcer at the site of the bite and swelling of the lymph glands, typically in your armpits and groin. 
  • Heartland or Bourbon viruses - can cause fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and body aches.
  • Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) - can cause an irritating rash that can expand up to 3 inches or more in diameter; may experience fever, fatigue and muscle pains.

Do lone star ticks carry Lyme disease?

While the rash and symptoms may be similar, the lone star tick does not carry Lyme disease.

Where are lone star ticks found?

Lone star ticks are found all across the eastern part of the United States, and into the midwest and south east. Found in Maine, down to the eastern parts of Texas, these ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas. 

“While these ticks are mostly in forested areas, they can also be found anywhere with tall grass and shade,” adds Dr. Cicogna. “It’s best to keep your yard trimmed short and be mindful that any areas of dense overgrowth and vegetation are a likely dwelling spot for these pests.”

What do lone star ticks look like?

Typically a reddish brown color, the most telling sign of a lone star tick is the white dot on its back. 

Lone star tick

How do you treat a lone star tick bite?

Remove the tick and thoroughly wash the area with soap and water. Take a photo of the tick or secure it in a plastic bag, in case you need to show your doctor.

Contact your physician if: 

  • You have difficulty removing the tick
  • You develop symptoms or have a painful rash 
  • The tick has been on your body for an extended period of time, a couple of hours or even days

“Oral antibiotics are often prescribed for treatment of the rash and any flu-like symptoms,” shares Dr. Cicogna. “An allergist can work with you to determine if you have developed an allergy to red meat.”

Prevention includes avoiding dense woods and brushy areas, applying insect repellents containing DEET or permethrin, wearing long pants and socks. Always perform tick checks after significant outdoor exposure. Contact your physician if you have any concerns about a tick bite. 

Next Steps & Resources


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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