It only takes one bite from a lone star tick for an unsuspecting victim to develop a meat allergy that can last months, years, or even an entire lifetime.
Here’s how scientists think it goes down: Alpha-gal is a sugar molecule found in nearly all mammals, except humans and a few other primates. A lone star carrying alpha-gal (or an alpha-gal-like substance) bites a person and spreads it to their blood through the tick’s saliva. Then, the molecule essentially rewires the body’s immune system, prompting it to produce an overload of alpha-gal antibodies. When that person goes in for a cheeseburger, their body has a life-threatening reaction to the sugar in the meat.