Alpha Gal Syndrome (Meat Allergy)
Two recent studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have uncovered a potentially significant number of undiagnosed cases of alpha-gal syndrome, a meat allergy associated with tick bites, affecting as many as 450,000 Americans. Alpha-gal syndrome derives its name from the sugar galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, found in meat from various mammals but not in humans or other apes. In the United States, lone star ticks are believed to be the primary vectors of this disease, transmitting the sugar to humans through their bites. Subsequently, some individuals’ immune systems may misidentify this foreign sugar as a threat and react excessively when they consume meat.
Symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome are diverse and often take several hours to manifest, encompassing reactions such as hives, nausea, diarrhea, or even anaphylactic shock. Interestingly, even those with the syndrome may not experience illness each time they consume meat, making diagnosis and management challenging for healthcare providers. To identify the syndrome, clinicians can order a blood test to detect alpha-gal antibodies in patients. Until August 2021, a single commercial laboratory conducted most of these antibody tests in the United States. One of the new studies analyzed antibody test results from this lab between 2017 and 2022, revealing that alpha-gal syndrome is most prevalent in Southern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern states, where lone star ticks are known to thrive.