The meat tick is real
The internet headlines were ominous: a kind of tick connected with Texas, the land of ranches, could actually make people allergic to red meat.
The stories were brief; people being bitten by the Lone Star tick could get the allergies, and it’s happening to more and more people.
But I think it also says something about why there’s still a need for old-school journalism.
On the face of it, it’s what the CBC used to call a “Hey, Martha” story — the kind of thing that would make someone call out to their spouse to come and see.
But “Hey, Martha” is everywhere on the internet, and it’s hard to know if it’s fact, fiction or deliberate deception.
Now, you can find out more about the tick
There are acres of information out there, and if you’re willing to take the time and effort, you can track things down right back to the original science. But who has the time? That’s the meat tick problem in a nutshell.
The tick isn’t even from Texas. It’s from the southeastern U.S., and it’s spreading — or, at least, the allergies are.
In its own way, it’s simple enough. The Lone Star tick (called that because of a Texas-shaped white spot on its arse) can bite you after sharing a meal from a number of different mammalian sources, from mice to cattle.
Some of the material from previous snacks gets transferred into your bloodstream, and your immune system can declare war on one or more of those materials.
In this case, a sugar-linked protein called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose is apparently the culprit. Once your body develops an intolerance for the saccharide (which goes by the super-hero sounding handle of “alpha-gal” among researchers), you can develop allergic reactions to a meal of meat that run the gamut from hives to full anaphylactic shock.
For some, it’s the end of the carnivorous lifestyle for good. There’s no treatment or cure. Not everyone develops the allergy, but that’s the way allergies work.
There’s a lot more to the story than a simple headline that seems, on the face of it, just another internet farce-du-jour.
It is, in its own way, a little like the headline treatment of the Catholic Church’s decision to allow genetically modified materials in the host, but to also not allow gluten-free host.
If that’s all you read, it sounds like the church and the Pope are being arbitrary again — until you actually follow up on why. The argument? That without gluten, the host doesn’t bind into a dough, so other additives have to be used to make it bind properly. It’s not that the church doesn’t want people to avoid gluten, so much as it is that the church wants to maintain the dough’s particular integrity.
(It is a decision alone the lines of why Saint Joseph of Cupertino is one of the patron saints of air travel. Born in 1603, he was around a trifle before aircraft existed, but since he would spontaneously float into the air “in ecstatic prayer,” he seemed like a logical choice for the gig. Our Lady of Loreto is another saint for fliers, because the Virgin Mary’s house was supposedly carried by angels to Loreto from the Holy Land in 1284. Once again, it’s a form of logical-argumentwithin-a-belief-system.)
To get back to journalism, though: our job is to find things out — especially things readers need or want to know — and make them both readable and accurate. Often, there’s more to the story. You just might not always have the time to find it for yourself, unless you have a particular interest.