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Live lone star ticks in a vial. Photo: Portland Press Herald via Getty

Ticks are associated with plenty of diseases, from ehrlichiosis to Lyme disease. But perhaps the most relevant tick-borne illness this bug season is one carried by lone star ticks, whose saliva carries a protein that creates an allergy to red meat.

What's new: Scott Commins, an Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at UNC Chapel Hill saw his first case of tick-related alpha-gal allergies in 2007, and documented two dozen cases in 2009. That number has since grown to more than 5,000. Now, he's working to develop a vaccine to cure the allergy.

Q&A with Commins

Commins spoke to Axios to answer the biggest questions about the alpha-gal allergy and how he plans to cure it.

How long the allergy lasts:

"Luckily, the meat allergy does not seem to be permanent for most people. It generally lasts two to three years, but additional tick bites will bring it back."

What a cure might look like:

"We recently identified a protein in tick saliva that we believe could be really important in triggering the meat allergy. We plan to isolate that protein and inject it into mice to see if we can develop a vaccine."

What makes this allergy so unusual?

"It can affect someone who has safely eaten meat for their entire lives, so it can come on as an adult very much out of the blue. It doesn’t seem as though you can be predisposed to this allergy, it seems to affect people who have seasonal or pet allergies and those who have no experience with allergies in their life equally."

Why the issue has taken off this year:

"The idea of what a food allergy is has broadened, and that's helped us, because now people can more easily link hives or GI distress to food they had a few hours before, And have a blood test, which helps physicians and providers give an answer. That was not around when we started — we developed it.

"On top of that, diet is a very personal and important thing to many people, and many adults don't want to lost the ability to eat meat."

Be smart (and safe): The allergy can be hard to spot, and reaction is rarely immediate or like most food allergies (think hives, swelling). It can occur hours later and often involves stomach pain.

Blood tests can determine whether a patient has the allergy. Additionally, Commins monitors cases through crowd-sourced data on ZeeMaps.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.
4 hours ago - Health

Standardized testing becomes another pandemic victim

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post via Getty

National standardized reading and math tests have been pushed from next year to 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: There’s mounting national evidence that students are suffering major setbacks this year, with a surge in the number of failing grades.

4 hours ago - World

European countries extend lockdowns

A medical worker takes a COVID-19 throat swab sample at the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. Photo by Maja Hitij via Getty

Recent spikes in COVID-19 infections across Europe have led authorities to extend restrictions ahead of the holiday season.

Why it matters: "Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.