Now tick bites trigger a severe meat allergy—even the smell of sizzling bacon can trigger a reaction with itching and wheezing.
Allergies are rare but anecdotal reports suggest they may be on the rise, so NHS Highland wants to get a better idea of how people are affected.
Hillwalkers and estate workers are warned that tick bites can cause potentially fatal allergies to meat.
Eating a steak, burger, or even something sweet can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
Just walking past a butcher shop, or the aroma of sizzling bacon, can cause intense itching and wheezing.
Incidents of freak allergies are relatively rare – but anecdotal reports suggest the numbers may be on the rise. Now a Scottish NHS board is set to carry out research into allergies.
NHS Highland wants to get a better idea of the number of people who develop it and how they are affected. Ticks are also responsible for transmitting Lyme disease, which can cause debilitating neurological symptoms.
Hillwalkers and estate workers are warned that tick bites can cause potentially fatal allergies to meat
Lamb almost killed me
Patrick Sinclair was bitten in 2016 and developed symptoms after eating lamb
Retired deer stalker Patrick Sinclair almost died from a rare allergy.
Mr Sinclair – the brother of Liberal Democrat peer Lord Thurso – was bitten in 2016 and developed symptoms after eating lamb.
She said: ‘I was very itchy and took antihistamines. The next morning I had another crunch on the lamb and that really set me off. I was having trouble breathing.’
Paramedics treated Mr Sinclair, 68, but he ended up in hospital weeks later after eating rabbit and venison meat.
A specialist told Mr Sinclair to give up meat for three years. However, three months ago he had another reaction and attributed it to a new tick bite.
Mr Sinclair, who lives near Loch More, Caithness, now carries a life-saving EpiPen.
She said: ‘After a while without being bitten, my body stopped being so sensitive. But little nymph ticks find me often in my own garden.’
Francis Hynes, NHS Highland’s research, development and innovation manager, said: ‘We are aware that this could be problematic for Scotland, particularly the Highlands, given our high levels of ticks. This is partly related to climate change – the warmer your climate, the more likely you are to support the occurrence of ticks.
‘We no longer have a tick season in the Highlands – they are there all year round. Tick populations around the world are up and running.’
A meat allergy, alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), is triggered by a specific sugar found in meats such as venison, beef, rabbit, lamb, pork and bacon.
Tick bites transfer sugar molecules into the body that, in some people, trigger an immune response. Sufferers must be wary of certain sweets and medications that contain dairy products and gelatin.
The syndrome was first reported in 2009 by researchers in the US state of Virginia. Severity varies from person to person.
Mrs Hynes, whose partner has the condition, said: ‘It’s a very nasty disease and it’s really up to the individual to pick it up.
‘If you get AGS, it can increase over time. It can be very difficult to manage.’
He has now planned the first UK study into the condition.
It is difficult to estimate the number of cases – but two of the 55 people in Ms Hines’ department had family members with the allergy.
He added: ‘It’s a tiny sample but even if it’s one in 100 or 500, it’s still a pretty big number.’