Rare Red Meat Allergy From Tick Bites Rising In US, CDC Warns

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of a rising number of cases of a rare meat allergy from tick bites in the United States.

The CDC stated that between 2010 and 2022, it has identified more than 110,000 suspected cases of alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), an emerging and potentially life-threatening allergic condition.

However, because the diagnosis of alpha-gal syndrome requires a positive diagnostic test and a clinical exam, and some individuals with the disease may not get tested, it is estimated that as many as 450,000 people might have been affected by AGS in the United States, according to CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Studies show that many healthcare providers in the country are not familiar with AGS, also known as the red meat allergy or the tick bite meat allergy. Of those aware of AGS, knowledge about diagnosis and management is low.

In a survey conducted among 1,500 doctors, nurse practitioners and paramedicals across the country, it was found that nearly half of them had not heard of AGS, while approximately one-third of the respondents reported that they were ‘not too confident’ in their ability to diagnose or manage patients with AGS.

In another study, CDC researchers found that out of laboratory test results from more than 300,000 specimens submitted by healthcare providers on behalf of patients with presumed clinical suspicion of AGS, more than 30 percent were positive.

“Alpha-gal syndrome is an important emerging public health problem, with potentially severe health impacts that can last a lifetime for some patients,” said Dr. Ann Carpenter, epidemiologist and lead author of one of the papers released Thursday.

Alpha-gal is a sugar found in meat from mammals such as pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, venison, etc. and products made from mammals such as gelatin, cow’s milk, milk products, and some pharmaceuticals.

AGS is a serious allergic condition some people experience after they consume food or products containing alpha-gal.

People who suffer from AGS may experience wide ranging symptoms, including hives or itchy rash; nausea or vomiting; heartburn or indigestion; diarrhea; cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; drop in blood pressure; swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eye lids; dizziness or faintness; or severe stomach pain. Symptoms commonly appear 2-6 hours after eating food or other exposure to products containing alpha-gal.

Growing evidence suggests that AGS is primarily associated with the bite of a lone star tick in the United States, but other kinds of ticks have not been ruled out according to CDC. Localities in the southern, midwestern, and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States identified more people who tested positive, the federal health agency added.

“It’s important that people who think they may suffer from AGS see their healthcare provider or an allergist, provide a detailed history of symptoms, get a physical examination, and a blood test that looks for specific antibodies (proteins made by your immune system) to alpha-gal,” said Dr. Johanna Salzer, senior author of the research papers.

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