For a long time, it was the black-legged tick that we had to worry about, but over the years, the lone star tick has found its way to Rhode Island.

It has become more common thanks to one particular animal, which is found throughout Massachusetts, too.

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What Is a Lone Star Tick?

Thomas Mather is a professor of plant sciences and entomology at the University of Rhode Island. He is the director of the university’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center, and he says reports of the lone star tick have increased by 300% between 1999 and 2023.

The name "lone star" comes from the distinctive white mark on the backs of female lone star ticks, and they are very aggressive once they find a host.

“They can be in swarms,” Mather said. “When they get on you, they move very fast. When they latch onto your clothing, they can be underneath your shirt before you have a chance to see them.”

The bite of a lone star tick causes alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) which is an allergy to alpha-gal, a sugar found in the tissues of all mammals except humans and other primates.

“This can trigger an individual’s immune system to respond by producing antibodies against alpha-gal, a reaction called sensitization, since the immune system is now sensitive to alpha-gal,” according to EcoRI.

In other words, the person who gets bit could become allergic to red meat, dairy, gelatin or other mammal-derived products.

READ MORE: What Would Happen if a Tsunami Ever Hit Massachusetts?

Are Lone Star Ticks in Massachusetts?

Mather found that lone star ticks prefer to feed on white-tailed deer and use them as reproductive hosts.

In a recent survey, lone star ticks were found in nearly 30 Rhode Island zip codes and they continue to move northeast due to the reproductive success of white-tailed deer.

Massachusetts has no shortage of white-tailed deer, which means it is becoming likelier for humans to come in contact with lone star ticks.

According to EcoRI, Mather is working closely with the CDC, the University of Massachusetts and Martha’s Vineyard to develop an action plan for AGS.

“Once someone uses a tool like TickSpotters (and) sends us a picture of a lone star tick, we can get them a serum within 72 hours before they develop an antibody,” Mather said.

How to Remove a Tick

MassDPH suggests following these steps to safely remove ticks:

  • Use a fine pair of tweezers to grip the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out with steady pressure.
  • Do not apply kerosene, petroleum jelly, nail polish, or a hot match tip to remove the tick. These measures are not effective and may result in injury.
  • Circle the calendar date and note where on the body the tick was removed. You may want to save the tick for identification.

As the warm weather approaches, more opportunities for outside activities are drawing near. Educate yourself on how to properly deal with this fast-moving tick.

Especially if you want to keep eating red meat.

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