Tick bites can cause severe infections, including Lyme disease, but new research suggests they can also cause serious meat allergies. This condition, called alpha-gal syndrome, was previously thought to be rare, but scientists now believe its prevalence is much higher. The authors of the new study tested about 300,000 blood samples, and more than 30% of them showed signs of alpha-gal syndrome.
Between 2010 and 2022, more than 110,000 cases of suspected alpha-gal syndrome were reported. Given that many people may not have been tested for allergies, in fact, 450,000 Americans could have developed the disease.
A second study by physicians from the CDC found that 42% of physicians had not heard of alpha-gal syndrome. Only 5% of physicians surveyed felt “very confident” that they would be able to diagnose or treat patients with the syndrome.
Alpha-gal is a carbohydrate found in red meats such as pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, and venison, as well as gelatin products, cow’s milk, dairy products, and some pharmaceuticals. In alpha-gal syndrome, an intolerance to this carbohydrate develops. Symptoms may include hives or an itchy rash, nausea or vomiting, heartburn or upset stomach, diarrhea, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, swelling of the lips, throat, tongue or eyelids, dizziness or fainting, or severe abdominal pain. Allergy symptoms usually appear two to six hours after eating meat or other foods containing alpha-gal.