Why Are So Many People Suddenly Allergic to Meat?
December 13, 2018 2:23 PM   Subscribe

More and more people are becoming allergic to mammal meat, and worryingly, mammal products such as cheese, wool, and even the gelatin in pill capsules “This increasingly common sensitivity seems to result from a certain type of tick bite. The fact that we’ve figured that out is the result of some amazing coincidences in scientific research.” It’s called an Alpha-Gal allergy, and due to climate change, it’s becoming a problem worldwide.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (78 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
You could make up a story about how we are being modified so as to be less dangerous to the biosphere.
posted by ckridge at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2018 [89 favorites]


The problem isn't so much not being able to eat meat, it's the not being able to wear wool or other animal fibers, not being able to take certain medicines that use animal gelatin, one of the women in the article had a severe reaction to the lanolin in a lip balm- certain blood thinners are derived from animals after all. It's a life-threatening problem.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:29 PM on December 13, 2018 [46 favorites]


Evolution finds a niche and exploits it. Husband is allergic to eggs and they seem to show up in the most random of places. Luckily it's an irritation allergy, not a life threatening one, but sometimes have to play roulette with what set him off.
posted by msbutah at 2:50 PM on December 13, 2018


This is a really worrying public health change. I have a friend with a similar condition, and it makes her life really difficult--especially since while vegan options can make her life easier in some ways, they don't necessarily watch out for the same things, and manufacturers often don't treat veganism as a potential allergen in the same way (which is, honestly, totally reasonable). The strength of these allergic reactions is terrifying, and so is the unpredictability of locating this particular glycoprotein. It is a monstrous thing to wish on a person, particularly in service of problems like climate change that have many causes more complex than simply meat consumption, and particularly when other solutions with less impact on individuals (such as paying attention to systemic changes and the impacts caused by corporations) are as effective or more effective as any one person converting to veganism at knifepoint.

So are the changes in ticks that transmit it: Amblyomma biting at all life stages makes it a much nastier tick to deal with than Ixodes. I spent some time writing tick questions for vet board exams in conjunction with a vet a few years back, and I read up a lot on where to find these ticks and how to deal with them as well as the types of veterinary diseases they carry. They're nasty little things. The fact that they bite at all life stages is really bad for a couple of reasons: it means that at any given time, there are a lot more biting ticks, since there are predators that eat larvae and nymphs before they might otherwise be developmentally ready for blood meals. Moreover, because they take blood meals at all stages, the odds of any given tick carrying a disease become greatly increased: more ticks have a chance to feed off an infected host, which means more ticks are potentially compromised, which means more hosts are potentially compromised, which means more ticks potentially feed off of infected hosts... Amblyomma has a number of characteristics as a vector that make it very worrying compared to the Ixodes ticks we're normally worried about with Lyme.

Combine that with the reality that climate change is really changing the vector populations for a whole host of species and that we are seeing more generalist parasitic vectors like Amblyomma and Aedes aegypti move into feeding on humans as well as a whole host of other species, and the vector is really ripe for a big public health problem. That it's also conferring allergies this aggressive on people is both really interesting and motherfucking terrifying.
posted by sciatrix at 2:50 PM on December 13, 2018 [95 favorites]


If I were given to conspiracy theories, I'd wager that this is a genetically engineered virus from rogue scientist trying to save the planet after reading one too many articles on how bad industrial meat farming is for the environment.
posted by JDHarper at 2:53 PM on December 13, 2018 [8 favorites]


Huh, yeah, I have a friend who should read this article.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:54 PM on December 13, 2018


Ok as a librarian I have to nitpick:
There IS a term for this concept in PubMed. It's this entry here.

They only create PubMed headings for an allergy and a disease together when there are significant number of published articles on that concept. The heading "shellfish hypersensitivity" (the term for shellfish allergy) wasn't introduced until 2016, to give you an idea of "significant number" and how long it may take to achieve this. Whenever there is not a heading, you search with the substance name AND the idea of allergy. Plus, Pubmed isn't the only database in the world.

Saying "There's no PubMed term for it, so no one can research this allergy" is like saying "This specific gas station does not sell sliced cheese and sliced meat and sliced bread together in the same package, therefore, ham-and-cheese sandwiches do not exist anywhere in the universe."

There is no universal search engine for journal articles. PubMed focuses on medicine and the sciences underlying medicine. It has HUGE gaps in basic science literature, which is where most discussion of the mechanisms of a new disease occur.

Ugh, science reporting. Whenever I find errors like this that discuss my field, I begin to wonder how much of the other science (that I am not an expert on) in the article is also kinda-sorta-maybe-true. Which is a shame, because this is scary as hell.
posted by holyrood at 3:10 PM on December 13, 2018 [86 favorites]


Fascinating article! Just to summarize some points related to the biochemistry and epidemiology, for those not interested in reading the whole thing:

People who are bitten by a some species of ticks develop high levels of antibodies — immunoglobulin E (IgE) proteins — in an immune response to a particular sugar found in the muscles of non-primate mammals.

The sugar is galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, known for short as alpha-gal. The intense immune response to this particular sugar is why organ transplants can’t be made from animals to people.

It is not known why the tick bites induce such high levels of antibodies (and thus allergy) to this sugar. It may be that the sugar is introduced during a tick bite from a previous meal the tick had. Or, there may be an unknown chemical introduced in tick saliva that mimics alpha-gal.

Incidence of this allergy is increasing, and research is ongoing to determine why, but it seems connected to climate change.
posted by darkstar at 3:29 PM on December 13, 2018 [21 favorites]


Also, a Radio Lab podcast about Alpha Gal
posted by codewheeney at 3:29 PM on December 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


I wish this long rambling article included a box with some numbers? How many people have it? At what rate does it seem to be increasing?
posted by runcibleshaw at 3:36 PM on December 13, 2018 [8 favorites]


Seen a couple articles, probably made a few jokes, omg, probably going to toss out sandals and shorts now.
posted by sammyo at 3:40 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


and the vector is really ripe for a big public health problem. That it's also conferring allergies this aggressive on people is both really interesting and motherfucking terrifying

What makes this EVEN more terrifying is this coming together at a time when public health agencies are facing an administration that desires horrifying cuts to their budgets, like 17% to the CDC's, and thus public health programs. Even if Trump doesn't entirely get his way in Congress each year with his proposed budgets or public health budgets increase again in the future, who knows what kind of institutional knowledge, health professionals, research, outreach, data, and programs have been lost in that meantime and the long term implications of that. Especially when one specifically includes items like, oh, for example, a $30 million cut to programs that "support the public health workforce and surveillance/informatics. . . . CDC will also reduce the number of trained disease detectives and rapid outbreak responders" (from page 6 of the President's budget request linked above) among many other cuts and outright stealing from NIH and CDC budgets in order to build their fucking "detention" centers. And this just considers public health cuts, let alone the snowballing effects of additional cuts to climate change research as well as just plain not giving a shit about the environment (including biota research).
posted by barchan at 4:01 PM on December 13, 2018 [44 favorites]


And just on top of that, tick research has traditionally been poorly funded compared to the other big major difficult-to-eradicate vector, which is mosquitos. This despite the fact that ticks have been well known to harbor particularly nasty pathogens, such as tularemia and Lyme, literally since I was a child--different and less horrible species from this one, but still bad. And that ticks take more blood meals, increasing the likelihood of contamination with pathogens, and that their life cycles are more likely to involve parasitizing multiple species of hosts, increasing the risk of transmitting new and exciting zoonotic diseases as climate change perturbs our local ecologies. I have a colleague who works on this in the context of leishmaniasis and sand flies, and she's finding that as climate change allows the sand fly populations to expand into new territories and pick up new hosts, the disease is able to move northwards of its usual haunts. For a disease that causes hideous open sores at the best of times, that's not ideal.

So we know comparatively little about these particular vectors, we don't know how to effectively control them, we don't know as much about their genomes or their natural history, and we're likely to get even less funding in the future. And our big public awareness campaigns about ticks center not on how to discourage conditions ripe for breeding them but on how to avoid getting bitten, which pretty well boils down to "don't go outside, I guess" in some areas of North America. To my knowledge, we have not had a large-scale, successful campaign to eradicate ticks in an effort to reduce disease in North American history, which is not the case for mosquitos.

Let's cut funding, motherfuckers.
posted by sciatrix at 4:26 PM on December 13, 2018 [35 favorites]


How would you even get rid of them? Ticks are like the perfect predator. Jeez. I can’t imagine.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:43 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I just had an image of a world where this allergy becomes universal, or at least ubiquitous enough that society at large had to seriously curtail animal consumption and use of animal by-products.

Chickens and fish would still be on the menu, but no more beef hamburgers, no more steaks, hot dogs, dairy products. No more wool clothing, gelatin products, etc. It would be quite a societal shift.
posted by darkstar at 4:54 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


How would you even get rid of them? Ticks are like the perfect predator.

Possums.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:57 PM on December 13, 2018 [35 favorites]


Yes! Opossums! God’s greatest gift! They act as a firebreak for rabies and they eat ticks for breakfast! And all they ask is for our trash. Opossums: the answer to all of life’s problems.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:01 PM on December 13, 2018 [107 favorites]


I've had the Alpha-Gal allergy for about thirty years. After some sleepless nights due to a multitude of hives, I went to our local country doctor. He told me that he had seen several instances of this tick-borne allergy but had no name for it. I was living in NE Missouri at the time -- lots of ticks in the woods and in areas of thick tall fescue grass.

Hamburger, fatty pork roasts, and deer organ meat triggered the worst reactions. Milk products never did.

The condition has weakened over the years; now I can eat small portions of mammalian meat, but I'm careful, especially at buffets and potlucks.

Now I'm living in SE Arizona, near the border, where thankfully ticks are rare. I don't miss them!
posted by Agave at 5:06 PM on December 13, 2018 [30 favorites]


did a possum write that
posted by cortex at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2018 [94 favorites]


How would you even get rid of them? Ticks are like the perfect predator.

Possums.


True: my cousin has a landscaping business and employs her brother (also, of course, my cousin). When we were kids we ran around all over the woods at our grandparents house in the mountains and always had to be checked for ticks in the evening, regularly finding one or more. But I never see them here in the city where I grew up and I never did when I was a kid. I asked them at a family get-together a while back, and they don't get them here either even though they're outside in grass and shrubbery and what all else all day. I asked a co-worker who lives much farther out of town, way out in the country: ticks everywhere, all the time. My working hypothesis has been possums. There are *hordes* of possums here, but out in the hills, not so much.
posted by dilettante at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


maybe
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2018 [17 favorites]


no it's "possumbly" come on
posted by poffin boffin at 5:24 PM on December 13, 2018 [76 favorites]


If I were given to conspiracy theories, I'd wager that this is a genetically engineered virus from rogue scientist trying to save the planet after reading one too many articles on how bad industrial meat farming is for the environment.

If this were a book by Michael Crichton the culprit would be a shadowy cabal of evil radical vegans.
posted by ejs at 5:29 PM on December 13, 2018 [9 favorites]


an immune response to a particular sugar found in the muscles of non-primate mammals

Uhh
posted by schadenfrau at 5:38 PM on December 13, 2018 [21 favorites]


Also, “going outside” in the northeast is only going to still be a thing for like the next 10 years or so right

Well and also the west coast, with the fires
posted by schadenfrau at 5:40 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


non-primate mammals

hannibal season 4 at last
posted by poffin boffin at 5:42 PM on December 13, 2018 [24 favorites]


I have a modest proposal…
posted by Pinback at 5:49 PM on December 13, 2018 [12 favorites]


And our big public awareness campaigns about ticks center not on how to discourage conditions ripe for breeding them but on how to avoid getting bitten, which pretty well boils down to "don't go outside, I guess" in some areas of North America.

WOW I had no idea about tick funding, and that's funny you bring that up because I just spent some time mulling Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. When I was a kid (in Wyoming), it was a huge deal, especially in a population that spent so much time outside for both hobby and vocational reasons. Everybody knew somebody that had had it or had a story about it (not that hard in a small population, but still). Like, my parents discovered my mom was pregnant with me when they helped someone get their sheep herder off the mountain who was sick with what turned out to be RMSF but they gave everybody some tests before they figured it out. And I remember what seemed like a Very Serious and Scary Incident as a little kid when the rancher next door to us collapsed between the barn and his house one day because he had "tick fever"*. But then it just kind of . . . died out? You just didn't hear about it anymore. So just now looking into it in the CDC report, sure enough, there's a spike in the 70s-80s which explains my recollection, and then it did decrease. But holy shit! For not being talked about anymore in my neck of the woods, it's dramatically increased - 495 cases in 2000 to 4,269 cases in 2016 (source). But maybe more in other areas of the country? I couldn't find a map with historical trends geographically, just extant ones. Curious. (Even more curious - it's mostly 2 different kinds of ticks that cause it, and currently, geographically, most of the cases occur in areas with the American dog tick and not the Rocky Mountain wood tick - so I have to wonder if climate change has affected those ticks differently. Or maybe I'm biased.)

I always thought it had to do with exactly the kind of thing that from your comment actually wasn't happening - better public awareness about the illness or some drive to deal with ticks with pesticides or tick education or something. But it's clear looking into it I'm wrongy wrong wrong. And your comment shines a light on something important I was just realizing - while we knew what RSMF was, nobody was really taught what kind of tick causes it, even though researchers already knew. Which one would think be valuable information, yeah? I think they've reversed that a little since then - the tick that causes Lyme disease is pretty well described, for example - but in general I think one could say both historically and currently general education about ticks and tick diseases seems pretty lacking (I consider myself somewhat informed about outdoor public health hazards but had no idea that, as the article said, "Tick-transmitted illnesses are more common in the U.S. than mosquito-borne ones—according to the CDC’s most recent accounting, in 2017 tick-borne diseases were 2.6 times more common than when the agency began counting in 2004." WHOA. ) And if there are at least 6 different tick species that so far have been identified as vectors in this allergy. . . being able to identify different kinds of ticks would be a big first step.

Just as a side note. . . when I was a kid a horse threw me into what could only be described as "tick nest" or a "tick ball". Maybe it was a mass of ticks that had recently dropped off an animal, we don't know. They swarmed all over me. I was covered in ticks. While they were what we locally called sheep ticks, which while get big and gross don't really bite people (have no idea their real i.d.) it was Not A Fun Time. To this day, even though I have to deal with them and do, ticks GIVE ME THE WILLIES and this article ISN'T HELPING.

Yeagggghhhhh!

*it's quite possible that every tick related illness in the area automatically got called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever by the locals even if the doctors diagnosed them differently, including what I now know is Tularemia and Colorado Tick Fever
posted by barchan at 5:50 PM on December 13, 2018 [22 favorites]


what could only be described as "tick nest" or a "tick ball".

Nnnnnnnnnnnooooooooooo
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:54 PM on December 13, 2018 [37 favorites]


Lone star ticks are awful in the Piedmont of NC. My brother has had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever twice, my sister-in-law has Alpha Gal, and both my dad and I have had STARI. When I see how miserable my sister-in-law is, and when I think about how many lone star bites I've had, I feel like I moved to Georgia just in time. We have them here, but in not nearly the overwhelming numbers as in NC.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:03 PM on December 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


People who are bitten by a some species of ticks develop high levels of antibodies — immunoglobulin E (IgE) proteins — in an immune response to a particular sugar found in the muscles of non-primate mammals.

Wait, wait... non-primate mammals? Does that mean this tick may be the harbinger of some weird cannibal cults or... um... zombies?
posted by TofuGolem at 6:06 PM on December 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


the poppy seed–sized larvae that attacked Platt-Mills, which linger on grass stalks in clusters and spring off hundreds at a time

it is with concern and regret that i must announce my controversial but nevertheless firm support for setting everything on fire
posted by poffin boffin at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2018 [57 favorites]


Not-quite-as-horrifying-as-a-tick-nest-but-still-pretty-horrifying tangent:

I disrobed after a hike once to find a dog tick on my areola. THANK GOODNESS it was just getting settled in and had not attempted to attach (or burrow or whatever the verb for terrible tick behavior is) and I could screech (uncharacteristic) and panickedly flick it off.

But I still remember the sheer horror of realizing that the slightly itchy sensation on my nipple was not a bit of grass or whatever in my bra, but an evil little vermin feeling around for a place to dig in and suck my blood.

YEEEAAUUUGGGHHLLTTTHH.

Is it universal mammal programming to find small bloodsucking parasites utterly repulsive?

Also creepy, and very sad -- moose are dying from blood loss from too many ticks. Climate change seems to be giving the bugs the upper hand in some places.
posted by octopodiatrist at 6:24 PM on December 13, 2018 [9 favorites]


Also FYI we know ticks fed on dinosaurs. Which means that ticks survived the end of the Cretaceous. They're . . . tenacious.

(which brings up some questions about the evolution of possums)
posted by barchan at 6:32 PM on December 13, 2018 [9 favorites]


Tangentially, climate change is letting pine beetles survive warmer winters, and allowing them to extend their range, whereupon they are killing off huge swaths of forests.
posted by darkstar at 6:36 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


small arms, loves to scream, likes to monch

possumsaurus rex
posted by poffin boffin at 6:37 PM on December 13, 2018 [20 favorites]


It’s obvious, when you think about it.
posted by darkstar at 6:38 PM on December 13, 2018


(which brings up some questions about the evolution of possums)

Well the earliest real-deal-we-absolutely-know-its-a-marsupial fossil (older ones are questionable) we have dates from around 65 mya...
OMG.
Opossums killed the dinosaurs!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:40 PM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


So this isn't serious or anything but considering the amount of time cats spend grooming (basically 50% of waking hours in my experience) could there be an animal that essentially survives by attracting and then eating the parasites it attracted?
posted by sjswitzer at 6:49 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


Jokes aside, the thing with Opossums and ticks is similar to their thing with rabies. Basically, their marsupial body temp is too weird for rabies to actually infect them, so they act as a firebreak during rabies outbreaks. Every Opossum bitten is one less animal bitten that can and will spread the virus. With ticks its a little different. They attract ticks like every furry critter traveling through the underbrush, but not only are they immune (I think) to the diseases the ticks carry, they seem to have evolved to just eat the ticks off their own bodies. SO by consuming the ticks that bite them, there are less ticks in the environment to spread disease to animals who can be infected by them. And since Opossums are animals that are very low and small and burrow-y, they attract a fair amount of ticks, that then go into their bellies.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:50 PM on December 13, 2018 [49 favorites]


More like o-awesomes, amirite?
posted by rodlymight at 6:53 PM on December 13, 2018 [21 favorites]


As they say, "not to abuse the edit window but..."

could there be an animal that essentially survives by attracting and then eating the parasites it attracted?

This could apply, in a sufficiently broad sense, to any sedentary animal, say an oyster or coral. I guess I'm looking for something more active than that, but it is not lost on me that the possum has a relatively low metabolism.
posted by sjswitzer at 7:09 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


but it is not lost on me that the possum has a relatively low metabolism.

Well its a trade off isn't it? The opossum's low metabolism is part of what contributes to their funky body temp which is why most diseases just can't take in them. Also a faster animal would need so many ticks as to make their lifestyle unsustainable, but I'm fairly certain even Opossums need more than ticks, its just that ticks and other insects make a surprisingly high part of their diet when compared to other omnivores.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:16 PM on December 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


The interesting thing is that evolution has a special place for creatures that don't share common failure modes; hence living fossils (including, perhaps, monotremes).
posted by sjswitzer at 7:39 PM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


its just that ticks and other insects make a surprisingly high part of their diet when compared to other omnivores.

Ok but I might be off, because it just occurs to me that bears eat a fair amount of moth and other insect larvae, so it could be that omnivores regardless of size eat a lot of insects, the odd thing about Opossums is the tick eating specifically, since they're not an insect most mammals eat- in fact besides opossums the animal(s) that eat ticks the most are birds like chickens, and as far as I know that's kinda it- Opossums and some birds, which is part of the reason why the climate change fueled explosion in tick population is such a problem, they don't have many (any in some places) natural predators.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:32 PM on December 13, 2018


We could make obnoxiously loud, angry guinea fowl the new cane toads, they hoover up ticks like crazy! Just big mean birds running loose everywhere.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:13 PM on December 13, 2018 [10 favorites]


Ah man, I know someone who has this. I didn't realize quite how serious the allergy and sensitization can be, for some reason.
posted by limeonaire at 9:50 PM on December 13, 2018


So opossums are tick-bait?
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:38 PM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


We have our new presidential candidate; he'll box all the ticks.
posted by chavenet at 1:25 AM on December 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


The Australian guidelines* for best practice in removing an embedded tick to prevent mammalian meat allergy are to kill it before removing, as squeezing the tick with tweezers will increase the likelihood of toxin injection and sensitisation.

You can get little cryo pens from some chemists or visit your friendly GP with a cryo gun to freeze it, it should just fall off. Don't tweeze it!

end public health message.

Just kidding DON'T TWEEZE IT


* check the CDC? dunno what Americans do
posted by chiquitita at 1:46 AM on December 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


Not-quite-as-horrifying-as-a-tick-nest-but-still-pretty-horrifying tangent:

I see your boob-tick and raise you finding one on my genitals, engorged with blood, several days after being out in the woods. I was one very freaked out teenager that day.
posted by Dysk at 2:27 AM on December 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


All we get from the article w/r/t climate change is:
“Climate change is likely playing a role in the northward expansion,” Ostfeld adds, but acknowledges that we don’t know what else could also be contributing.

...and while a lot of us are mentioning it in this thread, I want to chime in and say that in public health, it's taken as near-fact though without quite as much evidence as we'd like (but that's okay, sometimes the evidence is slow to follow when we have an occam's razor type situation).

Climate change is increasing the range of ticks, their viable living season, and lowering their winter mortality rates. There are more of them in more places and we can by and large measure that through reported Lyme cases. Here's the State of Minnesota, a lyme disease hotspot, showing the range expansion of cases since the 1990s.
posted by entropone at 4:55 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


It just occurred to me that, since I enjoy petting dogs and many people bring their dogs out To Nature on the weekends, I might not even be safe from the ticks here in the heart of the city.

Have we considered killing all the ticks

How would we kill all the ticks
posted by schadenfrau at 5:13 AM on December 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


Me: Man, this sounds horrible. If it has to happen at all I hope it's happening somewhere far away from me.
Article: Here's an opening anecdote about somebody who lives in the town next to yours.
posted by ardgedee at 5:19 AM on December 14, 2018 [12 favorites]


Which means that ticks survived the end of the Cretaceous. They're . . . tenacious.

Nigh-invulnerable, even.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:49 AM on December 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


could there be an animal that essentially survives by attracting and then eating the parasites it attracted?

BitCoin?
posted by JohnFromGR at 6:54 AM on December 14, 2018 [19 favorites]


You can tweeze ticks in the States; "they" recommend grasping the little bloodsucker as close to the skin as possible so that the head doesn't detach and so that you don't squeeze the viruses they carry into your body as you remove it.

Also we are doomed.

Which is fine, I mean, are we worse for the rest of the planet than ticks are for us? asking for a friend.
posted by allthinky at 7:16 AM on December 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Unleash the possums!
posted by aspersioncast at 7:33 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Like, clearly the solution is to replace your boring cats and dogs with exciting tick-munching marsupials.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:34 AM on December 14, 2018 [10 favorites]


My mother has become an all-out crusader about fighting off ticks after both she and my brother got Lyme disease within the past decade. She's trained everyone in the family to douse ourselves with bug spray before doing any outdoors activity.

I've been Lyme-free thus far, fortunately - thanks to that diligence - and it now looks like I should thank Mom for keeping me safe from Alpha-gal allergy as well, since the ticks look like they'll soon be at my border.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Can we get an all-out, fully funded, public service announcement campaign for Moar Possums? Poppy the Possum would be a great spokespossum. I feel like far too many people are freaked out by them and don't want to see them -- everyone should know what good little tick-eaters and non-rabies-carriers they are. (And also just so ridiculously cute.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:44 AM on December 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


Do fire ants eat ticks, to a significant extent? What about chiggers? It would be a shame if my loathing for fire ants had to be supplanted by their actual usefulness.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:36 AM on December 14, 2018


Fire ants do attack and consume ticks, but they are also invasive species in North America that perturb ecologies in their own right, which is also not super ideal from the perspective of minimizing the kind of ecological churn that provides opportunities for new infectious diseases. Possums bring way fewer drawbacks.
posted by sciatrix at 9:55 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


You can get little cryo pens from some chemists

These don't seem to be available in the US so I hope setting them on fire is okay bc that is what I plan to do, even if it means setting my own human flesh on fire simultaneously.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:04 AM on December 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


So insect biomass is down 80%, but ticks are still a growing problem. Perfect.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 11:09 AM on December 14, 2018


So! I just came back from a class on native landscape design in which the (awesome) instructor mentioned that, while possums do indeed eat a disproportionate amount of ticks, the BEST tick predators overall (in the Northeast) are song birds because there are so many more of them feeding per acre.

So plant for the birds, my friends. Encourage habitat restoration. There is a way to rebalance the scales, at least a little bit, but it involves helping what little native habitat we have left.

(Also motherfucking tick tubes in all your motherfucking stone walls, fellow New Englanders).
posted by lydhre at 11:28 AM on December 14, 2018 [17 favorites]


BRB, writing up a proposal for a goat-drawn* possum caravan full of birdseed.

*Might as well get rid of the poison ivy while we're at it.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:02 PM on December 14, 2018 [14 favorites]


I fucking love metafilter
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:05 PM on December 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


Want to help with tick-tracking research? There's an app for that! Plus they're experimenting with incorporating push notifications when you're in a high-tick-activity area. More info available here. (Sponsored by UW–Madison and Columbia University, available for iOS and Android.)

"tick ball"
like cheese balls, but for possums!

I might not even be safe from the ticks here in the heart of the city.
You're definitely not, sorry. They're at their worst on Staten Island, but you can find them all over the city. I know for sure that there are ticks in Prospect Park because I FOUND ONE ON MY SCALP ONCE AAAAAAAHHHH
posted by halation at 1:58 PM on December 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Visiting a friend of a friend in Missouri this summer I was introduced to tick pliers, since squeezing ticks with tweezers or using something hot (like a lighter) on them may cause them to regurgitate fluids into your skin and spread disease. I'd definitely carry a pair if I was going hiking somewhere with a lot of ticks, or if I had a dog.

Bonus possum fact: they are immune to snake venom, and scientists have been trying to isolate a protein from their blood to help develop new snakebite treatments. Possums are pretty great!
posted by Feyala at 2:18 PM on December 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Bonus possum fact: they are immune to snake venom, and scientists have been trying to isolate a protein from their blood to help develop new snakebite treatments. Possums are pretty great!

praised be to the Opossum god I have a new fact about my favorite creature!!!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


you can find them all over the city

CANCEL NATURE
posted by schadenfrau at 3:38 PM on December 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


Huh, I wonder if this could explain some of the vegetarians/vegans who get really sick when they eat meat phenomenon.
posted by florencetnoa at 3:45 PM on December 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Feigning" death, low body temperature, immunity to many diseases.

Have we considered that opossums are actually undead? We still know very little about their biology.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:18 PM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]



You can tweeze ticks in the States; "they" recommend grasping the little bloodsucker as close to the skin as possible so that the head doesn't detach and so that you don't squeeze the viruses they carry into your body as you remove it.


Yeah, the problem with doing that is that the margin for completing the heist and removing the tick in toto and squeezing half the head off is very narrow, and ticks can be very deeply embedded. I removed half a tick head from a patient just last week.



You can get little cryo pens from some chemists

These don't seem to be available in the US so I hope setting them on fire is okay bc that is what I plan to do, even if it means setting my own human flesh on fire simultaneously.


Probably effective as long as the skin is burned enough to denature the alpha-gal protein so it doesn't get identified by the immune system.
The stuff for freezing warts is what I mean. I think that's widely available.
posted by chiquitita at 3:41 AM on December 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


they" recommend grasping the little bloodsucker as close to the skin as possible so that the head doesn't detach and so that you don't squeeze the viruses they carry into your body as you remove it.

You can also just amputate the affected limb. Or get a possum.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:20 PM on December 16, 2018 [4 favorites]


The most embedded ticks I've ever removed from a person in one go is 41. 41 elephant ticks, from a researcher who decided to have lunch in a spot where elephants had been hanging out.

That's nothing, though. The average moose has 47,000 ticks on it. Be glad you have hands, primate.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:00 PM on December 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


I read that as mouse, not moose, and I just envisioned a deer mouse crawling with the world's smallest, most horrifying ticks.

Thanks.
posted by sciatrix at 7:41 PM on December 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


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