Now might be a good time to turn vegetarian as a tick, dubbed the “Lone Star” tick for a white marking in the shape of Texas on its body, is spreading in the U.S. The tick reportedly carries a sugar molecule, alpha-1, 3-galactose, which, when a human is bitten, reprograms the immune system to render the victim permanently allergic to eating meat.

When a tick carrying Alpha-Gal – as the molecule is called for short – bites a person, the body’s initial response is to develop an antibody against the attack. The same sugar molecule is present in Red Meat, meaning that through that antibody and when consuming meat, the victim’s immune system will immediately respond to fight it off, thus triggering the meat allergy.

Symptoms of the allergy include shortness of breath, hives and stomach cramps and in severe cases can cause fainting and difficulty breathing. In some very rare cases, it can reportedly even lead to death.

The tick is getting around

The tick was first discovered a decade ago and was traditionally found in the south-eastern U.S. states, but cases of the Alpha-Gal symptoms and red meat allergy have now been seen as far away as New Hampshire, Minnesota, Duluth and Hanover. Researchers believe this suggests the tick’s habitat is changing and growing. Long Island saw over 100 cases of the sugar molecule allergy last year.

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National Geographic quoted allergy and immunology fellow Cosby Stone of Vanderbilt University as saying that as little as five years ago, around 50 patients were suffering from the Alpha-Gal syndrome. However, now there are more like 200 reported victims.

Climate warming causing ‘Lone Star’ tick to spread

As reported by USA Today, Purvi Parikh, an allergist, has said the warming climate is responsible for “Lone Star” ticks spreading further north, leading to outbreaks across the U.S. What is unusual about this tick is that its bite affects everyone the same way, despite the victim’s predisposition or genes. Parikh said there is a definite rise in cases in the summer and that it is definitely spreading, as they are seeing more cases in New York.

Research continues into the cause of Alpha-Gal syndrome

So far researchers are unsure what element of the “Lone Star” tick’s saliva causes the Alpha-Gal effect when victims eat red meat. They believe the cause could be a virus or bacterium, or residual protein from the tick’s previous meal.

Some meat lovers took to Twitter after hearing the news, many with humor.