RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Tom Vavra used to eat meat with every meal. Now, he’s found a new love for veggies and fruits, but it wasn’t by choice.

The Richmond man told 8News that three years ago, he ate a sausage biscuit and three hours later, he wound up in a hospital bed in anaphylactic shock. Doctors were puzzled but revealed the answer to his medical mystery was a tick bite — the lone star tick to be exact.

Lone Star Tick

Doctors said a bite from this spotted tick could trigger a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to the sugar molecule called alpha-gal. It’s found in most mammals and their meat, meaning one bite of a steak or burger could send you to the emergency room.

“It’s really bad,” Vavra said. “Your body just starts shutting down and you can’t breathe, you can’t walk, your brain doesn’t work anymore, blood pressure drops really quickly.”

Vavra described a scary scene, saying the reaction was accompanied by shortness of breath, hives, sweating, swelling, and GI issues.

Dr. Balraj Bajaj with Allergy Partners of Richmond said the reaction is the same as you’d see with any other allergies; however, the difference is the delayed symptoms. Often, the ‘alpha-gal’ reaction happens two to six hours after the product is eaten.

Health experts say more data is still needed; however, recent information points to a rise in cases of this bizarre ‘tick bite’.

The Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology scholarly journal indicates an increase in positive test results from 1,110 in 2011 to 7,798 in 2018. It also shows Virginia as one of five states with the highest number of cases.