Cases of Meat Allergy Linked to Tick Bites on the Rise: CDC

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July 28, 2023 – The CDC is calling for more health care providers to become educated about alpha-gal syndrome, or AGS – an allergy caused by tick bites that may have affected up to 450,000 people in the United States.

AGS is also known as the red meat allergy or the tick bite meat allergy. People can get AGS after being bitten by a lone star tick, making them very sensitive to a sugar found in red meat and dairy products, the CDC said in a news release that came with the release of two reports.

There were more than 110,000 suspected cases of AGS identified from 2010 to 2011, but up to 450,000 people may actually be infected, the CDC estimates. The problem is that many health care providers don’t know about the allergy. A survey of about 1,500 providers found 42% had never heard of AGS and only about a third knew how to diagnose the allergy, the federal health agency said. 

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

“It’s critical for clinicians to be aware of AGS so they can properly evaluate, diagnose, and manage their patients and also educate them on tick-bite prevention to protect patients from developing this allergic condition.”

AGS is a potentially life-threatening condition. Symptoms include hives, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, shortness of breath, a drop in blood pressure, and swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eyelids. Symptoms usually show up 2 to 6 hours after eating food containing alpha-gal. 

Diagnosis for AGS requires a positive diagnostic test and a clinical exam. People who know they have AGS can manage it with lifestyle changes, such as avoiding beef, pork, lamb, venison, and rabbit, the CDC said. Some people need to avoid cow’s milk, milk products, and gelatin. A small number of people should avoid certain vaccines and gelatins.

People who don’t have AGS should take precautions to avoid tick bites, the CDC advised.