The prevalence of allergic reactions triggered from the bite of the lone star tick has Vineyard tick experts concerned. Alpha-gal, a type of mammalian sugar, somehow becomes problematic through bites of lone star ticks, and can cause people to have reactions to meat products. Known as alpha-gal syndrome, the reactions can be severe, such as anaphylaxis, shock, or heart problems. Or the reactions can simply cause gastrointestinal distress or hives.
“Lone stars and alpha-gal are our biggest concern,” Dukes County tick biologist Patrick Roden-Reynolds told The Times. Roden-Reynolds says he and former county tick biologist Dick Johnson have seen an uptick in alpha-gal cases.
Tufts University tick expert Sam Telford said, “Not much is known about [alpha-gal] and how to treat it.” Telford said if one doesn’t get bitten by another tick, the syndrome should abate in about six months.
“It’s a terrible thing if you’re a meat eater,” he said. Telford also said, “Lone stars are really expanding,” and the Vineyard may soon be intolerably overrun with them.
Roden-Reynolds said while lone star ticks can be found across the Island, Aquinnah, Chilmark, and Chappaquiddick are where they are most concentrated.
Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said an alpha-gal discussion group is being considered. Poole said it would likely be moderated by a registered nurse, if created. Poole said generally speaking, alpha-gal is “definitely being talked about more” at the Vineyard boards of health. Chilmark health agent Marina Lent said much the same.
Lone star nymphs, which are poppy seed–size, can bite people en masse, as can lone star larvae, which are pinhead size. The larvae bites can be so awful, one Southern newspaper editor suggested the lone star tick wasn’t the Lord’s creation, but the Devil’s.
“I don’t know the evolutionary beginning of ticks, but I’m positive they’re not of God,” Ben Garrett, editor of the Independent Herald in Oneida, Tenn., wrote in an opinion piece. “I’m convinced that the first lone star tick crawled directly out of the pits of hell, because its offspring are literally the spawn of Satan.”