Some of the tiniest creatures that roam our planet can cause the biggest problems humans face today. One such threat that's been expanding its territory in the United States is the lone star tick, and unfortunately, trouble is following it everywhere it goes.
It seems this little crawler is responsible for the spread of alpha-gal syndrome, a disease that causes an allergic reaction to mammal meats like pork, beef, and lamb. An increasing amount of evidence shows that the allergy can be triggered by tick bites. One of the victims of this tick's bite is 60-year-old Deborah Fleshman, who first noticed something strange when she woke up one night in 2008 to find her legs had turned red. "It feels like you're on fire, and then it feels like you slept with a cactus," she said. "The itching is unbearable." Hours after discovering the strange color of her legs, she told her father, "I feel like I’m dying." Based on Fleshman's words, we can agree that this insect is no joke!
The lone star tick is named after the easily recognizable white spot on the females' backs. Historically, it's been widely distributed throughout the southern regions of the United States. However, it's recently been making more and more appearances in areas of the Midwest and Northeast. According to scientists, we can thank global warming for the spread of this dangerous creature. For this reason, these ticks, which thrive in warm and humid climates, are finding suitable living conditions in northern regions as well. And they're bringing diseases along with them wherever they go.
According to scientists, alpha-gal diagnoses are now on the rise. "What we're now seeing is a wide-open door for ticks to continue expanding their range further northward; bringing more people into the fold of the arthropod-borne diseases," said Michael Raupp, a professor emeritus in entomology at the University of Maryland. According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tick-borne diseases have more than doubled between 2004 and 2019. As for the future, it's still unclear how the spread of the lone star tick will develop in the next years. "We're venturing into uncharted waters in so many dimensions with climate change," Dr. Raupp shared. Guess we'll have to wait to find out. Be sure to stay tuned!