Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Tick Caused Meat Allergy Becoming More Common

Over 100,000 Americans have developed an allergy to red meat over the past decade due to an uncommon syndrome caused by tick bites. Health officials also believe that more people have the issue but are unaware of it.

A subsequent study estimated that up to 450,000 people in the U.S. may have developed the allergy, which would make it one of the most common food allergy in the country. While it has not resulted in any confirmed deaths, those with the allergy have said it is terrifying and bewildering.

One patient, Bernadine Heller-Greenman, said she never associated her symptoms with food as they often developed hours after a meal.

The reaction, which is known as alpha-gal syndrome, occurs when a person who was previously bitten by a tick eats red meat such as pork, beef, and venison, or ingests other mammal products such as milk or gelatin. Interestingly enough, the symptoms are not caused by bacteria or microbes, but by alpha-gal, a type of sugar that occurs in mammal meat- and in tick saliva.

When the alpha-gal sugar enters the body through a tick bite, it causes an immune system, which can result in a severe allergic reaction.

alpha gal syndrome
Those with alpha-gal syndrome often develop symptoms hours after eating alpha-gal containing food

Previously, researchers have seen the syndrome in those who have taken a cancer medication that was made with cells containing the sugar. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that scientists determined it could also be transmitted through tick bites.

The syndrome was eventually tied to the lone star tick, which is commonly found in the southern and eastern United States.

One of the studies looked at test results from 2017 to 2022 and found that the number of people who had alpha-gal antibodies had increased from 13,000 to 19,000 over the past five years. Experts believe the number may be going up for various reasons, including the increased range for lone star ticks, and more individuals coming into contact with the bugs in general.

Despite that, many doctors are unfamiliar with the syndrome. According to the second survey, which was given to 1,500 physicians and health professionals in the U.S., nearly 50 percent have never heard of the syndrome, and only 5 percent felt confident that they would be able to make a diagnosis.

red meat
The alpha-gal sugar in red meat is responsible for the allergy symptoms

Individuals with alpha-gal syndrome can experience a variety of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, hives, severe abdominal pain, dizziness, diarrhea, swelling of the lips, throats, or eyelids, and difficulty breathing. Unlike most food allergies, however, symptoms often develop several hours after eating.

Some patients may also only have GI symptoms. For this reason, the American Gastroenterological Association recommends those who are experiencing unexplained nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain to be tested for the condition.

While the allergy can fade in some individuals, the key is to prevent being bitten in the first place.

Brooke Carter
Brooke Carter
Freelance writer who loves dogs and anything related to Japanese culture.
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