The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, stating that a little-known but dangerous food allergy triggered by tick bites could be affecting a significant number of people in the US. This condition, known as Alpha-Gal Syndrome (AGS) or the “red-meat allergy” due to its association with tick bites and consumption of meat, is primarily linked to the Lone Star tick found in Southeastern and Eastern states.
When the tick bites, it introduces a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into the body through its saliva. This, in turn, leads to allergies specifically to certain kinds of red meat, such as pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, and venison, as well as products derived from mammals like cheese, milk, dairy products, and gelatin.
Consuming foods containing these allergens can result in severe allergy symptoms manifesting within a few hours after ingestion.
According to Dr. Johanna Salzer, a CDC epidemiologist and senior author of the recent report, the CDC became aware of Alpha-Gal Syndrome only in 2008.
In a study conducted by the CDC, it was discovered that between 2017 and 2021, out of 300,000 tests conducted, 30% yielded positive results for AGS. While the CDC officially received reports of over 110,000 suspected cases, it is suspected that the true number of affected individuals could be as high as 450,000.
The reason for the potential underestimation is that a considerable number of individuals might not undergo testing, and a significant proportion of healthcare professionals may not be aware of the existence of this condition, as explained by Salzer.
“Based on our survey of 1,500 physicians and medical professionals, nearly half of them had never even heard of the syndrome. Another third of them said they have heard of it, but that they have little confidence in their ability to diagnose it or manage a patient with it. t’s important for them to be aware of this condition and the variety of ways in which people can present, as well as the geographic areas where we’ve identified suspected cases and potential hot spots.”
According to information provided on the Mayo Clinic’s website, additional common symptoms of Alpha-Gal Syndrome include hives, itchy or scaly skin, swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat, wheezing or shortness of breath, and stomach-related issues like pain, diarrhea, upset stomach, or vomiting.
Furthermore, the situation can become more intricate as the same individual may experience different reactions on separate occasions.
Dr. Ann Carpenter, an epidemiologist and the lead author of one of the papers released on Thursday, stated that the CDC’s recent reports are intended to raise awareness among physicians and patients regarding an emerging public health concern with the potential for significant health consequences.