An increase and the expansion of the Lone Star tick population has increased the “alpha gal” allergy which is also known as red meat allergy or mammalian meat allergy (MMA).
Alpha-gal allergy is a condition that can cause humans to have anaphylactic and hypersensitivity reactions when they eat red meat. The sugar molecule alpha- gal is found in mammal meat, and 80% of alpha-gal allergy cases are caused by Lone Star tick bites. Common symptoms of AGS include nausea, vomiting, sneezing, headaches, shortness of breath, and even anaphylaxis which can be potentially fatal. Because the delay in feeling symptoms from alpha-gal allergy can take up to 6 hours after eating meat, patients are often unable to diagnose the cause of their ailment. It is of particular concern that repeated exposure to tick bites can worsen the severity of a reaction, so a diagnosis is important. “Some patients have had to be given life support because their blood pressure is so low that they’re in eminent danger of dying”, said Cosby Stone of Vanderbilt University.
It has long been the consensus that AGS can only trigger an allergic response in humans when a tick has recently fed on the alpha-gal-rich blood of a mammal. But given that the allergy was not discovered until 2006, research is still in its infancy stage and new developments are putting this theory in doubt. Recently, researchers from UNC School of Medicine challenge this notion, and have presented compelling evidence suggesting alpha-gal-allergy can be contracted directly through ticks. Dr. Scott Commins, Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at UNC, notes that “new data suggests that ticks can induce this immune response without requiring the mammal blood meal, which likely means the risk of each bite potentially leading to the allergy is higher than we anticipated”. These finding were recently presented at the annual conference of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
There are no current treatment methods or cures for alpha-gal allergy other than avoiding red meats and taking all precautions to avoid receiving tick bites. A person with an alpha-gal allergy will likely have to change their diet and be careful when they eat out as red meat by- products are in many foods. Seafood, poultry, and eggs are acceptable protein choices for those with this allergy. Some people can tolerate dairy products, but others cannot. Prevention methods to deter bites in areas where Lone Star ticks are prevalent include avoiding wooded areas with overgrown grass, wearing light-colored clothing that fully covers limbs when in forests, checking pets for ticks regularly, using insect repellent, and washing clothing in hot water after returning from wooded areas. Additionally, if you have an allergic reaction within hours after eating meat, see a doctor for a diagnosis.