The latest news on the once rare red meat allergy that is linked to tick bites is that it is increasing in incidence across the country. Only five years ago, the number of people who were diagnosed with and treated for alpha-gal syndrome was tiny. Now, at least 160 patients are being treated.
Reason for the Increase
The reason for the rise of incidence is two-fold. On one hand, more and more people are being bitten by the lone star tick which is said to carry the antigen for the alpha-gal allergy and that is causing more people to develop the allergy to red meat.
Additionally, there is a better understanding of how the allergy develops and there has been an improvement in tests for the condition. As a result, the condition is better described and more easily diagnosed so it is natural to see a rise in diagnosed incidence.
Tests for Patients
Until recently, there were not many, if any, commercial tests available to allergists so that they could diagnose this condition. When a patient would come in with the allergy symptoms after eating red meat, it would be apparent that there is an allergic reaction occurring but the cause was not very clear at all.
Now clinicians are able to administer some simple tests and that will expose if a patient is dealing with the alpha-gal allergy or some other, more common issue. It is important to have the diagnosis for proper treatment.
How it Happens
It is believed that people are getting this allergy to red meat due to tick exposure. Namely the lone star tick is believed to be responsible. The tick is said to bite deer and then the tick has some of the deer blood left in it when it bites a person.
The deer blood contains the antigen for alpha-gal and that, in turn, forces the body to produce the antibody for it. The result is a very real blood allergy to alpha-gal which is found in red meat and dairy products only so that person is then allergic to red meat and many dairy products.
Like many allergies, the symptoms can range from mild to severe and full anaphylaxis. There can be a rash, hives, lip swelling, respiratory and eye, tongue, and throat issues. Increases in blood pressure and heart rate can be seen as well.
Normally, allergies take only second
ds to minutes to show up in a person. It is different with the alpha-gal allergy. In fact, it can take several hours for symptoms to develop and that makes diagnosing it so much more difficult than it would be for other allergies.
Currently, this allergy can be treated when it is in the acute stages. Epinephrine can be administered for severe cases and quick relief. Otherwise, the use of steroids and antihistamines is the line of treatment to curtail symptoms.
The only way to prevent the symptoms is for the patient to stay away from red meat and dairy products entirely.