An explosion in ticks is the reason more and more Australians are becoming allergic to red meat.
Mammalian Meat Allergy (MMA) was discovered in 2007 by Australian allergy specialist Sheryl van Nunen.
It is an allergy, caused by tick bites, that flares up any time a person consumes a product that contains anything from mammals, like cattle pigs or sheep.
However, with some sufferers, it is not just consuming meat is that is the problem. They can also have a reaction if they touch an animal or even breathe in fumes from a barbecue.
Professor van Nunen told the ABC that there was a broad range of ways an MMA sufferer could react.
“A milder systemic reaction would be generalised welts ranging through to closure of your throat and breathing difficulty and impending loss of consciousness and passing out needing resuscitation,” she said.
“Unfortunately it can be lethal in a very tiny minority of people.”
Doctors in regional areas, where ticks are more prevalent, say they have seen a rise in MMA cases in recent years.
Ticks need wet conditions to thrive and after three wet summers caused by the La Niña weather event there has been a tick explosion.
Trevor Cheney, a GP in Bellingen, in NSW, has noticed a huge number of ticks on his rural property.
He also said there had “certainly” been an increase in presentations of people with MMA.
“What I can’t say for sure is whether that’s an increase in the frequency, or it’s actually now that we’re more aware, [that] we’re actually finding people who were previously sick for unknown reasons and we’re identifying them,” he said.
“We’re going to see a lot more people getting a lot more tick bites,” he added.
“And some of those people will develop this allergy.”
MMA sufferer Elizabeth Rowley said she was diagnosed after feeling like she was experiencing “a thousand hangovers all at once”.
Elizabeth discovered that a tick bite from years earlier had actually caused her to develop the allergy.
The mum has now been living with the condition for 12 years, and says it has been hard on her young family who have had to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate her needs.
“Simple things like attending a barbecue and inhaling meat fumes or petting the family dog can have severe consequences,” she said.
Not far from where Elizabeth lives, Joanna Becker told the ABC that she also spent years trying to work out what was wrong with her health.
“I discovered that I had it [MMA] entirely by accident,” she explained.
“A friend … was eating a meat pie and he noticed me trying not to vomit. And he laughed and said, ‘Jo, do you have meat allergy?’ And I said, ‘What’s that?’”
Joanna’s family live on a rural property in Nambucca Valley, New South Wales, that she said has become “covered in ticks”.
“We didn’t have ticks noticeable on our property at all in the first five years that we were here, didn’t see them at all,” she recalled.
Those who contract MMA are required to radically change their diets to cut out products which will make them ill.
Even products like jelly lollies, which contain gelatine made from animal skin and bones, can catch people out.
However, it is not just food sources that can set the allergy off.
New flu vaccines, snake anti-venoms, even ventolin for asthma sufferers can all contain animal products and cause life-threatening reactions for MMA sufferers.