Experts Warn of Alpha-Gal Syndrome as Tick Bites on the Rise

( – The number of people in the United States that have developed an allergy to red meat after being bit by a tick is on the rise.

Alpha-gal syndrome occurs when a person who has been infected by a lone star tick bite eats meat from mammals such as beef or pork or eats other products such as milk or gelatin. The reaction is caused by sugar, alpha gal, which is present in meat as well as in the spit of the tick. An immune response is triggered when the sugar enters the body, causing an allergic reaction.

Symptoms, which occur hours after eating, include hives, dizziness, difficulty breathing, severe stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, as well as swelling of the eyelids, tongue, or lips. However, some people who have alpha-gal syndrome only have stomach symptoms.

The lone star tick is most common in the eastern and southern United States, though its area is expanding which could be part of the reason for the rise in cases.

Since 2010, more than 100,000 people have become allergic to red meat according to a government report released July 27. One study examined test results from 2017-2022 from the main U.S. commercial lab that looks for alpha-gal antibodies. In 2017, 13,000 people tested positive, while 19,000 tested positive in 2022.

According to another report, there could be as many as 450,000 that have developed the allergy. The second study found that out of 1,500 primary care doctors and health professionals in the United States, almost half had never heard of the allergy. Only 5 percent of those surveyed felt they could diagnose alpha-gal syndrome.

People who have been diagnosed with alpha-gal syndrome are counseled by doctors to change their diet, avoid tick bites and carry epinephrine with them. While there is a chance the allergy could fade away, those with the allergy should avoid being re-bitten.

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