John Kass

This could be a terrifying tale right out of the Book of Meat Science Fiction, only this one isn't fiction.

It involves the elemental bond between humans and the critters we like to cook on a grill, or roast, or saute.

But that could all end, because a tiny bloodthirsty bug known as the lone star tick carries something that can trigger a rare and mysterious meat allergy. And that allergy can cause carnivores to become violently ill when they come in contact with red meat.

Symptoms include stuff I refuse to type because if I do, I'll get sick just typing it. It's not deadly, but it does involve digestive functions and hives. I will say no more.

Except that Americans love red meat of all kinds. We're the kings of the best steakhouses, rib joints, burger palaces and butcher shops in the world. Beef is the American Way, unless you're of that militant vegetarian persuasion.

And this meat allergy could bring our way of life crashing down. There's no name for it, so I decided to give it one:

Kreatomiasma, or literally, the meat sickness.

"You're just trying to scare people with your fancy Greek scientific jargon," said my friend Mick, who loves meat as much as the next guy. "Kreatomiasma? You can't be serious."

Oh, but my friend Mick, I am serious.

Doctors have known of the relationship between the evil lone star tick and red meat for some time. Kreatomiasma doesn't strike seafood or poultry eaters. And if you're partial to reptile meat, snakes and gators and such, or insects, you can still enjoy your favorite meal, even road kill.

But if you enjoy meat from warm-blooded creatures and you get the bug, you might as well just sit down in a ditch, get drunk, read a Gene & Georgetti menu and wait to die.

It all became public with the story of a Durham, N.C., woman with the normal-sounding name of Clare Smith.

Clare was once a happy meat eater. She was bitten, became ill and didn't know why. And now she might as well be Clare Patient Zero in the fight against Kreatomiasma.

We interviewed Dr. Ves Dimov, of the University of Chicago, an internationally known expert who serves at the World Allergy Organization and has been tracking the meat illness.

"The allergy can appear at any time," he said. "We know what causes it and we can find out if the person is allergic or not, but we can't really predict who's going to develop allergies and how exactly it starts."