By Mrs. Valerie Collins (Leonard Wood)July 20, 2017
Living in the Ozarks means dealing with ticks, and for Department of the Army civilian Adrina Becker, a 39-year-old Pulaski county native, one tick bite changed her life.
She is sharing her story to raise awareness about an allergy she now lives with due to the bite.
An article published June 21 by National Geographic breaks down how a person can become allergic to red meat from a single bite from the lone star tick.
The article explains that a sugar molecule, commonly referred to as alpha-gal, activates the body's allergy immune system, causes this allergy.
When a lone star tick bites a person, it can transmit the alpha-gal molecule, which passes through the digestive system, triggering the immune system, making a person allergic to red meat.
Prior to being bitten by the lone star tick, Becker ate red meat her entire life.
Her symptoms began in 2013 when, she says, she started experiencing severe symptoms which included constant fatigue, joint pain, headaches, rashes, higher anxiety and abdominal issues.
All her symptoms seemed unexplainable, and she said her doctors ran tests for everything, including thyroid issues and lupus.
All tests were normal, and Becker recalls being frustrated because she said, "what I was feeling was very real to me."
Her doctors even went as far as to tell her she was paranoid.
Her stomach issues continued, and her doctors discovered her gallbladder was full of stones. Her symptoms did not improve when her gallbladder was removed.
Becker said her doctors just kept prescribing her medications to ease her symptoms, but nothing was working.
In October 2016, Becker said she decided to see a local doctor. Coincidentally, the doctor she visited was familiar with the alpha-gal allergy.
After relaying all of her symptoms, the doctor told her that she suspected it might be an allergy to red meat. She recalls thinking her doctor was crazy for even considering an allergy to meat.
Becker gave a blood sample and waited for the results to come back without expectation. It was positive.
With a diagnosis in hand she quickly realized how little doctors truly knew about the allergy.
While seeing an allergy specialist she was told, "we know what the allergy is but we do not acknowledge it."
This allergy forced major lifestyle changes for Becker. "I purged everything," she said.
It is being called a meat allergy but the effects reach far beyond the dinner table.
Becker points out, there is mammal in everything from beauty products to medication, and using these products will cause an allergic reaction.
"When I first found out, I said we are going vegan until I figure this out," she said. "That seemed like the easiest way to live, because the symptoms were that severe."
Becker said she went through a period of grief because her life was turned upside down.
Becker quickly found she was allergic to just the smell of red meat cooking in her house, while others with the same allergy reacted to dairy products.
Common products such as air fresheners, the wool in her clothing, the medications she was prescribed, all contain animal by-product and activated her allergy.
"We have 'regular meat' grills and 'my grills' because of cross contamination," Becker said.
What does a person eat when they are allergic to red meat? She says "if it swims or flies, I can eat it."
"Eggs and tortillas were my main diet for a while," Becker said, pointing out that it was the safest choice that provided her enough nutrition, carbohydrates and peace of mind to get her through a day. From there, she added new foods one thing at a time.
Becker is part of many support groups through social media, one consisting of locals with the allergy. She said these groups have taught her most of what she knows.
2nd Lt. Dong Zhang, Environmental Health chief at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, said the most important thing to remember is prevention.
"Using bug spray and checking for ticks is key," Zhang said.
Zhang stresses the importance of seeing your primary care manager if you suspect you are experiencing symptoms, so they can run the appropriate tests.
For Becker, growing up in Missouri, "ticks were just ticks," she said. Now she wants everyone to be aware that it only takes one bite to change your entire life.