A growing number of Americans are alleging that a sugar contained in tick bites causes an immunological system disease and a meat allergy.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, the illness is called Alpha-gal Syndrome after a carbohydrate present in most animals except humans and apes — and the saliva of some ticks.
Tick bites can create an allergic reaction to Alpha-gal, which means that eating meat containing the carbohydrate can trigger an allergic reaction.
Symptoms might range from minor to life-threatening. Anaphylaxis, persistent diarrhea, vomiting, and hives are all symptoms that people have described.
According to Dr. Tina Merritt, who trained with the doctor who discovered AGS, created the test for the allergy, and suffers from it herself, some people are so allergic that even the vapors from nearby meat cooking can cause symptoms.
According to the CDC, AGS can be caused by a lone star tick bite in the United States, but other tick species have not been ruled out. In other countries, various tick species have been linked to the spread of AGS.
It doesn’t cause rapid reactions like shellfish or peanuts, and it might take years, if not decades, to be diagnosed.
Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, a medicine professor at the University of Virginia, discovered the allergy in 2001 while working on a monoclonal antibody medication to treat cancer and noted that it was triggering anaphylaxis in a few individuals.
They discovered that the medicine Cetuximab had alpha-gal carbohydrate connected to the monoclonal antibody since it was generated in animal cells after a person was treated with it.
Platts-Mills, ironically, also contracted AGS and experimented with his own blood.
Perhaps the most well-known person to publicly admit to having AGS is mystery writer John Grisham, who contracted it after being bitten by a tick and no longer eats meat.
‘It was pretty bad,’ he said of his latest episode, which occurred after eating rabbit meat in Paris in 2012.
Jaclyn Scott, a lady who came out to say she had the disease, claims she has had it since 2017. She described it as a “horror show.”
‘I looked like I had been in a major battle two days after making bacon for my family,’ she added. I was close to passing out. My brother took me to the emergency room.’
Her symptoms, according to Scott, were rashes, a bloated belly, and other skin sensitivity.
Doctors thought she had rheumatoid arthritis at first, and she thought they looked at her “like I was insane.”
She is one of the people who gets triggered by meat odors, which means she can’t eat out and had to abandon her profession as a printer because the ink contains animal byproducts.
Scott claims she has trouble going to the grocery store and has allergic responses to numerous creams and medications.
Merritt claims to have over 1,000 AGS patients, many of whom she sees remotely.
Between 2010 and 2018, the CDC received 34,256 positive cases, however those are the most recent statistics available, with the Midwest and south exhibiting the greatest cases.
According to Dr. Erich Mertensmeyer, who has treated hundreds of patients, it could affect one to three percent of the population in some areas.
If you have symptoms, the CDC recommends seeing an allergist and checking your clothes and other belongings for ticks, especially when going outside.
What triggers AGS?
The allergy has been linked to bites from the Lone Star Tick, identified by a white spot on its back, which lives along the East Coast.
Its saliva can contain AGS, the same molecule as in red meats.
When the immune system attacks this molecule after a bite, it will then also attack AGS from red meat — sparking an allergic reaction.
Scientists are investigating whether other tick species can trigger the condition.
What are the symptoms?
Sufferers experience the following about two to six hours after eating red meat, or in some cases being exposed to its fumes:
* Hives or itchy rash;
* Nausea or vomiting;
* Heartburn or indigestion;
* Cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing;
* Drop in blood pressure;
* Swelling of the lips, throat, tongue or eyelids;
* Dizziness or faintness;
* Severe stomach pain;
Is the condition fatal?
The CDC says reactions differ from person to person.
But in some cases it can trigger anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction which can be fatal if not treated quickly.
How is AGS diagnosed?
Doctors carry out blood tests to check for specific antibodies that attack the molecule from red meat.
How is AGS treated?
Patients are advised to avoid any products that contain AGS.
This includes red meats, and other foodstuffs using animal products including cow’s milk and Haribo.
Can I prevent the condition?
Doctors say people should avoid grassy, bushy or wooded areas where ticks may be found.
After coming inside they also recommend showering and performing a thorough ‘tick check’ to ensure they have not been bitten.