Physicians are noticing an uptick of sudden onset red meat allergies in people who have been bitten by the Lone Star Tick. Recent studies have documented how the tick bite produces antibodies in the bloodstream which cross-react to a type of sugar in red meat known as alpha gel. The allergen is known as Galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose, or Alpha-Gal for short and is found in all red meats.
These antibodies produce an immune response of varying intensity such as hives and swelling to more severe symptoms of anaphylaxis and shock. Symptoms can occur as a delayed onset as well- up to eight- twelve hours after eating red meat. What is surprising to researchers is that the antibody culprit – alpha gel is a type of carbohydrate – whereas most food allergies are caused by proteins.
As the Lone Star Tick territory has spread from the Southeast to the East Coast, a wider geographic range of patients have been affected. Researchers think some other types of ticks also might cause meat allergies as cases have been reported in Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Japan and Korea. People who are afflicted with the Alpha-Gal allergy have to be constantly vigilant about the meat ingredients they consume, because an allergic reaction can be life-threatening.
Avoidance of red meat is the best way to prevent a reaction. Look for patterns of symptoms and discuss them with your health care provider on how to proceed if you have any concerns.