“It’s like your throat swells up, you can’t breathe, your blood pressure drops, and you black out,” said the 63-year-old man from Harcourt, a small community in eastern Ontario.
Waters, an avid hunter and meat lover, learned he had developed a rare allergy to everything made from beef, pork and lamb.
A bite from a tiny tick, recently spotted in Canada, is to blame.
The culprit, the lone star tick, is named for the white dot or lone star on the back of the female. Native to the southeastern United States, it has slowly migrated north, hitching a ride on birds, deer, and domestic animals.
Waters is not sure where the tick found him, but he suspects it might have been on a hunting trip in northern Quebec. The lone star tick has been found in neighbouring New Brunswick.
“The two we have which were contributed to us by people in New Brunswick, one fed from a human and one fed from a dog,” said Prof. Vett Lloyd, a biologist at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.
Dr. Lloyd says the lone star tick, unlike other ticks, is aggressive. “It is one of the few that will actually chase their prey. Once they know that you’re there, they will trundle towards you,” she said.
The lone star tick, which is moving from the southeastern United States into Canada, is named for the white dot on the back of the female. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control/Associated Press)
How these ticks cause the allergy that affects Waters, which was first identified in the 1990s, is complicated.
When the tick bites a person, it spits a protein called alpha gal into the blood.
That’s a compound present in beef, pork and lamb, and humans usually digest it harmlessly. But when it appears elsewhere in a person’s body, for example in the bloodstream, it causes a strong reaction.
The body develops antibodies to fight back, and the battle causes symptoms that range from a general rash to a severe anaphylactic reaction. There is no treatment yet.