Rock Hill man suffers severe meat allergy from Lone Star tick bite

ROCK HILL, S.C. — A bite from a Lone Star tick could give you a rash or even prevent you from eating red meat.

[LINK: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

Darren Nichols, from Rock Hill, is an avid hunter who loves the outdoors.

For the past year, he’s been seeing different doctors because his case is so rare they are using his blood for research.

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Nichols said he was on a hunting trip in Texas last summer when a Lone Star tick bit him on the back.

After dozens of visits to doctors, a blood test confirmed the tick gave him alpha-gal syndrome, a rare and incredibly severe meat allergy.

"You never want anyone you love to suffer, but he suffers on a daily basis,” said Tina Nichols, Darren’s wife. "This tick is for real and it's dangerous."

Darren Nichols said he carries an EpiPen every day.

"It changed my life, and I would like to make sure other people are protected, so it doesn't interfere with theirs,” Darren Nichols said.

All it took was one bite to start an intense health battle.

"I can smell smoke off the firepit or grease and that affects me,” Darren Nichols said. “Grease on my hands affects me."

Even minimal exposure to meat makes him severely sick.

"Our life has changed from the way we eat to what we use, as far as deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, lotions, because anything and everything you consume on a daily basis has an animal byproduct,” Darren Nichols said.

The tick is native to Texas, but it is found in much of the eastern part of the U.S., including in the Carolinas.

Here are six ways to avoid ticks, according to the CDC and outdoors experts:

  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone on exposed skin, always making sure to follow the manufacturer's directions. (And do not use insect repellent on babies who aren't 2 months old yet.)
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, avoid brushy areas and walk in the center of trails when you're out in the woods.
  • Treat outdoor gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with products that contain .5 percent permethrin or use permethrin-treated clothing and gear. The protection should last through at least a couple of washings.
  • When you come back indoors, conduct a full-body tick check using a handheld or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks.
  • Use products that will control ticks and fleas on your pets, making sure you never apply topical dog flea medicine like Frontline to cats.
  • Take steps to control mosquitoes, ticks and fleas inside and outside your home, using screens on windows, for example, and turning on the air conditioning instead of opening windows when you can.

Dr. Scott Commins at UNC-Chapel Hill, who specializes in allergies, told Channel 9 that 1 to 2 percent of people get alpha-gal syndrome from a tick bite.

"It is the No. 1 cause of adult-onset food allergy and anaphylaxis in North Carolina,” Commins said.

In 2009, there were only about two dozen patients in the country with Alpha-Gal, but that number is on the rise.

"Now, we're aware of 5,000 patients not even 10 years later,” Commins said.

"I hope that one day there comes to be a pill or a shot or something, but right now, the only thing is you can stay away from it, but at times you don't know what to stay away from,” Darren Nichols said.

Experts say it's possible for people to overcome the allergy, but doctors are still trying to find out why someone would develop a meat allergy from a Lone Star tick.

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