As the cases of vector-borne diseases more than tripled in the recent years, more people are developing red meat allergies caused by tick bites.
Private chef Matt Beres has been living with an allergy that is triggered whenever he eats red meat. Doctors said that a bite from a lone star tick could be the cause of Beres's unusual condition along with 3,000 other cases nationwide.
"This has become the biggest cause of new onset food allergy and anaphylaxis in adults throughout the South and largely in the East as well," said Dr. Scott Commins, an allergist and a researcher at the University of North California at Chapel Hill.
Beres said that he had been hospitalized several times due to his condition called alpha-gal syndrome. He always carries an EpiPen, an emergency allergy medicine, and he has since preferred fish and chicken meals.
What Is Alpha-Gal Syndrome?
The condition called alpha-gal syndrome is the immune system's response to alpha-gal — a type of carbohydrate or sugar that is found in beef, lamb, pork, and venison. Experts said that the fattier the red meat, the higher are the chances that an allergic person will have a severe reaction.
Allergic reactions can include redness and itching, stomach problems, and anaphylaxis — a life-threatening reaction where the body becomes hypersensitive to an allergen.
Dr. Erin McGintee, an allergist at Southampton, New York, said patients who suffer from alpha-gal syndrome do not show symptoms until three to eight hours after they consumed red meat.
Commins said that the delay of the symptoms is due to the body's weaker response to sugar.
"Secondly, the most severe reactions that we have heard about happen with fattier forms of meat. The digestion of fat is a process that takes three to hours to deliver fat to the bloodstream," Commins explained in a podcast interview.
How To Avoid Alpha-Gal Syndrome?
There is no cure for the alpha-gal syndrome, although doctors said the allergy would usually go away if the patient manages to avoid additional tick bites.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that lone star ticks are very aggressive in biting humans. They are predominant in Texas, Iowa, and all the way to New England. During warmer months between April and September, these bugs travel further north.
The CDC recommends avoiding wooded and bushy areas. If unavoidable, it is important to treat outdoor clothing and gears with the insecticide permethrin and to use an insect repellant.
"Alpha-gal allergy appears to be yet another reason to protect oneself from tick bite," said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci. "Food allergies can range from an inconvenience to a life-threatening condition and pose a serious and growing public health problem that urgently requires more research."