Kimberlee Cullen felt something crawling on her ribcage this summer, realized it was a tick and quickly plucked it off her skin.
She had been doing yard work outside her Ocean View home, and like most residents of the Delmarva Peninsula, Cullen gave little thought to the lone star tick abundant in the region’s forests, ditches and tall grasses.
A week later Cullen would learn that the tick may have forever changed her life.
Her nephew was visiting from Florida, and Cullen made pasta with meat sauce. After falling asleep during a movie, she awoke hours later to a burning sensation.
Her “head was on fire,” Cullen said.
“I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and I was covered in hives,” she said. “The itching was unbelievable, and I started having some shortness of breath.”
Cullen had acquired an allergy to red meat from the bite of a lone star tick — named for the single white spot it displays on its back.
This insect has steadily increased its range from the Southeast and now covers nearly half the United States, from Texas north to Wisconsin and east from New England, down the East Coast to Florida, according to field experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is pervasive in thick underbrush, where white-tailed deer, their primary host, thrive.
Whatever the reason for her outbreak, Cullen’s reaction was intense. A high dose of antihistamines didn’t provide relief from hives, itching and shortness of breath.
Cullen called 911 and was briefly hospitalized for anaphylactic shock, a serious allergic reaction from foods, insect stings and medications that in some cases can be life-threatening. Doctors didn’t initially diagnose her symptoms as a meat allergy from a lone star tick.