Lone Star tick, which can cause a red meat allergy, spreads in the IR


When University of Rhode Island entomologist Thomas Mather began researching the state in the 1980s, Prudence Island was “crawling” with Lone Star ticks, a species that can make people allergic to the disease. Red meat.

The ticks were so prevalent in the island’s state-run campsites that he informed the Department of Environmental Management, which quickly shut down all sites, he recalls.

At the time, Lone Star ticks were virtually non-existent in the most populated and accessible parts of the state. Now that is starting to change: This year the species has appeared in coastal communities including Riverside, Warwick, Narragansett, Tiverton and Charlestown, and it has become increasingly common in Jamestown.

“This clearly appears to be a major departure from our previous experience with Lone Star ticks in the past,” said Mather, who runs URI’s Tick Encounter Resource Center.

Steak lovers don’t need to be too worried, however. While millions of people across the country have been bitten by Lone Star ticks, there have only been around 5,000 documented cases of red meat allergies, Mather said.

In fact, an underestimated danger of tick bites is the likelihood that people will panic and assume they have Lyme disease, and then insist on unnecessary medical interventions. In fact, many species of ticks found in Rhode Island – including the Lone Star tick – are not known to transmit Lyme disease.

“People are so worried that they’re going to start making doctor’s appointments, taking antibiotics, playing with their microbiome – all of it needlessly,” Mather said.

The Tick Encounter Resource Center urges people to take pictures of any ticks they find, rather than flushing them down the toilet. This way, they can determine if they are really at risk. People who have been bitten by Lone Star ticks don’t even necessarily need to avoid red meat, although they should definitely be aware that they can experience symptoms ranging from an upset stomach to anaphylactic shock. , Mather said.

There is no evidence yet that Lone Star tick bites can trigger red meat allergies in pets.

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It is not known why Lone Star ticks are suddenly becoming more prevalent in Rhode Island. Named for the distinctive light-colored patch found on the female of the species, they have historically been more common in the southern states. While scientists have speculated that warming temperatures caused by climate change could lead to changes in where ticks are found, Mather is not convinced that a difference of one or two degrees in the average temperature is the only responsible.

The presence of white-tailed deer, which act as a host for ticks, is usually the main factor that determines where ticks are found, he said. As deer populations have increased in densely populated areas and the pandemic has sparked a new wave of enthusiasm for outdoor recreation, the likelihood of people reporting finding ticks has increased.

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But climate change can also lead to increased humidity, which provides a more welcoming environment for ticks, Mather said. URI researchers have found that there are far fewer blacklegged ticks, which can cause Lyme disease, during summers when humidity levels stay below 82% for long periods of time.

Since ticks don’t go away, the URI Tick Encounter Resource Center is working on a new initiative to boost “tick literacy,” Mather said. Signs placed at popular outdoor destinations like the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown will contain a QR code that will direct visitors to a short list of steps they can take to avoid tick bites, including tucking in their shirts, walking in the middle of the trail, and put their clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes when they get home.

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