A Missouri woman says a bite from a lone star tick gave her a severe allergy to meat and several other foods.
Kristie Downen, 38, of Peace Valley, was bitten by the arachnid in July 2015. At first, she didn’t think anything of it because she’d been bitten several times before.
But soon she started to develop unexplainable symptoms including heavy bloating, swelling, vomiting and diarrhea.
However, it wasn’t until a test this year that showed Downen has alpha-gal syndrome, an allergy to food caused by tick bites.
Downen told DailyMail.com that she is allergic to a variety of foods including peppers, chocolate, cabbage, carrots, egg whites, lettuce, peanuts and rice.
Kristie Downen, 38 (pictured), of Peace Valley, Missouri, was bitten by a lone star tick in July 2015
At first, the bite on her ankle was only slightly red. However, she began developing other symptoms included swelling, bloating, vomiting and diarrhea. Pictured, left and right: Downen with her husband
When Downen was bitten, she immediately recognized that it was a tick bite.
‘There was a bite on my ankle and it was red, but the doctor said it was just an allergic reaction and that it would go away,’ she told DailyMail.com.
However, she didn’t recognize why she was suddenly unable to keep any food down.
‘My stomach was swollen, I would get diarrhea, hives, I was vomiting,’ Downen said.
‘I was swelling to the point where I looked like I was nine months pregnant.’
At the time, she was battling a tooth infection, so she assumed the symptoms were related to the infection.
Downen visited several doctors who told her she was over-medicated, had lymphadenitis (an enlargement of one or more lymph nodes), and needed her gall bladder removed.
She said felt defeated after multiple misdiagnoses and no treatments, medications or surgeries helping.
‘I walked into the doctor’s office and said: “I’d rather be dead than feeling like this”,’ Downen said.
‘[I said:] “Every bite makes me feel like I’m dying” and she said she was going to test me for this lone star tick.’
The doctor tested to see if she had an alpha-gal allergy, which came back positive.
After several misdiagnoses, doctors found the tick caused an allergic reaction to alpha-Gal, a complex sugar found in red meat that humans don’t produce. Pictured: Downen
Downen says her immune system was so compromised from the tooth infection that she became allergic to 29 items, including red meat
Alpha-Gal is the main allergen in red meat and a complex sugar that humans don’t produce.
When those who are allergic consume foods with alpha-Gal, the body creates alpha-Gal antibodies. From that point on, the body is wired to fight alpha-Gal sugar molecules.
However, reactions to eating red meat aren’t the classic wheezing, hives or difficulty breathing that most people experience to foods they are allergic to.
Currently, Downen says she mostly eats bananas and strawberries, and fish about twice a week. Pictured: Lone star tick
Rather sufferers have gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea and vomiting, with occasional itching or swelling.
Dr Minh-Thu Le, an allergist-immunologist at CoxHeath in Springfield, told local station KY 3 that the tick is mostly found in rural areas.
‘Lots of ticks are on cattle. They picked up the alpha-Gal from the cattle, transfer it to humans,’ Le said.
‘When you eat cow’s meat, beef, pork or whatever else, then that’s when the alpha-Gal comes into your system and then you react to it.’
Typically, alpha-Gal causes allergies only to mammal meat. But Downen says her immune system was so compromised from the tooth infection that she became allergic to several more items.
She’s allergic to at least 29 different foods including chocolate, peppers, cabbage, carrots, egg whites, lettuce, peanuts and rice.
‘I’m pretty much surviving on bananas and strawberries right now,’ Downen said. ‘I can introduce fish like twice a week if I’m lucky.’
She now carries an EpiPen in case she goes into anaphylactic shock and has dropped 62 pounds, going from 180lbs to 118lbs.
Experts advise that people walking in woodland areas wear long-sleeved clothes, tuck trousers into socks, use insect repellent, and, most importantly, check for ticks when they return home.
As for Downen, she wants to encourage others to be their own advocate.
‘Use your voice,’ she said. I’ve had doctors tell me it’s all in my head, i’m here for pills. I was misdiagnosed for so long and who would think it would trace back to a freaking tick bite?’