The parasite, named for the splash of white on its back, has the bizarre potential to induce an allergic reaction to meat in its human victims.
As a result, say the authors of a paper presented last Friday at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACCAI), residents in states such as Alabama may soon be turning to vegetarianism in increasing numbers.
In humans, even a single bite from the lone star tick – or more likely its saliva – can trigger an allergic reaction to alpha-gal, the sugar carbohydrate found in red meats such as beef, pork and lamb.
Residents in central and southern regions of the US have already experienced excruciating reactions to meat after being bitten, and many are now unable or unwilling to continue in their carnivorous way.
“People will eat beef and then anywhere from three to six hours later start having a reaction,” according to Scott Commins, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia – anything from nausea, stomach cramps and headache to vomiting, diarrhoea, asthma and full-blown anaphylactic shock.
“Most people want to avoid having the reaction, so they try to stay away from the food that triggers it,” he added.