New tick-born illness in Mississippi causes life-long allergy

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FLORA, Miss. (WJTV) – Ticks are found all over the United States and are particularly bad in the south.

With the illnesses they carry, they’re not just a nuisance, one bite could change your life forever.

That’s what’s happened to one Flora woman.

Leigh Bailey said  “It was a tick that was on the back of my neck and I missed it.”

“It was on me for a day; about 24 hours.”

Bailey had been an avid hunter, until a couple years ago, after a Lone Star tick bit her while on a turkey hunting trip. Now, it’s a trip she’ll never forget.  

She explains she contracted what’s now being called Alpha-gal; A tick-born illness which makes one very allergic to the meat of mammals.

She found she’s now highly allergic to red meat, which causes her skin to break out in extreme hives and to have G.I. issues. She says others whom she knows with the illness have experienced anaphylactic shock after contact with red meat.

Ironically and luckily, Bailey and her husband own and operate an organic vegetable operation called Salad Days.

She laughingly says she’s glad she’s not a beef cattle farmer and is surrounded by all the healthy vegetables she could want, but she can no longer enjoy a good, old-fashioned hamburger. Instead, she’s says she’s learning to try things like an “Emu burger.”

Bailey is not the only one doctors diagnosed in the area, with the relatively new illness.

When she finally found a doctor who said he knew what her ailment was, he told her he also had around 100 other patients with Alpha-gal.

With so many people having come down with this illness in this area, use precaution when going outdoors. Light-colored clothing, properly covering your skin and tick repelling spray are encouraged by health professionals.

While Bailey says she still enjoys the occasional hunting trip with the girls and the outdoors, things are different now. She’s fearful and cautious.

Bailey says all Lone Star ticks carry the carbohydrate which is transmitted to humans from the last animal host of the tick.

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Aaron Nolan is a morning show co-host in Little Rock, Arkansas with Nexstar Media Group's KARK-TV. He has a passion for social media and makes it an important part of his daily routine. Click here to read Aaron's full bio.