The meat allergy, known as alpha-gal for a sugar carbohydrate found in beef, lamb, and pork, produces a hive-like rash – and, in some people, a dangerous anaphylactic reaction – roughly four hours after consuming the meat. It’s caused by antibodies to the alpha-gal sugar that are produced in humans after they are bitten by common Lone Star ticks.
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Now, the government has not yet issued health warnings about meat allergies associated with these ticks — such allergies are still quite rare, and like many other food allergies, the presence of the antibody doesn’t necessarily guarantee an allergic response. Scientists say the allergy-inducing tick bites have affected about 1,500 people since it was first reported in 2008 —compared to the roughly 25,000 new cases of Lyme diseases reported every year.
In the majority of cases so far, the tick bites have become a concern for meat-loving hikers, farmers and pretty much anyone spending regular time outdoors in Southeastern states like Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee where the Lone Star tick is commonly found.
But data presented at a recent allergy meeting suggests that even people living outside known Lone Star regions have reason to be wary.
Michelle Altrich, the director of Viracor Laboratories, one of two main reference labs offering a diagnostic assay for the alpha-gal allergy, presented an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tick data that indicates the allergy-inducing bites are being reported in large numbers well outside known Lone Star tick areas.