As the summer season begins and people head out into nature to take some time off, the government has warned that tick bites could lead to a disease that may have already affected roughly 10 million Americans.
These tick bites could cause a disease called Alpha-gal Syndrome (AGS), which could lead to a red meat allergy. A public health expert from the University of Minnesota, Dr. Jonathan Oliver, said the culprits are the lone-star ticks found in wooded areas in the eastern United States.
Symptoms of AGS do not develop instantly and could take as much as 12 hours to appear. These symptoms can be mild to fatal, with people describing everything from anaphylaxis to chronic diarrhea, vomiting or breaking out in hives.
Because there is a significant delay between eating red meat and a person getting sick, people don’t make the connection that they are reacting to the red meat they ate the night before or much earlier in the day. Moreover, many have mild cases of the disease that go undiagnosed for years.
There are many times that a person could be exposed to a lone star tick bite every year, so the probability of getting the disease from any individual bite is low, according to Oliver. However, people who are exposed to them more regularly remain at higher risk of developing the disease. (Related: Tick bites can cause life-threatening allergic reactions to red meat.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the best way to avoid this disease is to avoid ticks and take precautions when going into the woods.
According to Oliver, a chemical in the tick’s saliva can trigger the disease, although it is not clear how or why it hits only some people. “There is so much that is unknown about this disease, really knowing what combination or proteins causes AGS knowing whether infection with other tick-borne diseases is altering the allergy and so on.”
There is also the possibility of other tick species being carriers, which is why there is a need to identify other tick species that are capable of inducing the disease. “There is a ton of work that needs to be done,” Oliver said.
The allergy was discovered in 2001 by Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, a medicine professor at the University of Virginia, who was working on a monoclonal antibody drug to treat cancer when he noticed the tick causing anaphylaxis in some patients.
After a person was treated with the experimental drug called Cetuximab, he and his team realized it had alpha-gal carbohydrate attached to the monoclonal antibody because it was grown using animal cells.
Dr. Tina Merritt, who trained with Platts-Mills, said some people have bad allergic reactions to it and that even fumes from meat cooking nearby can trigger reactions. In some cases, it can even be fatal if not treated quickly.
There are no official or state-by-state counts for AGS, but the information given to the CDC showed 34,256 positive cases between 2010 and 2018. However, these are only the most recent figures available, with states from the Midwest and the South showing the most number of cases. (Related: Are ticks causing a “red meat” allergy? Scientists are trying to understand unexplained anaphylaxis incidents.)
Dr. Erich Mertensmeyer, who claimed to have treated hundreds of patients with AGS, said as many as one to three percent of the population could have this disease in some regions.
The CDC recommends contacting an allergist when one develops symptoms as well as checking clothes and other items for ticks, especially for those who like going outdoors.
Patients are also advised to avoid red meat and other foodstuffs that use animal products, such as cow’s milk and even Haribo gummy candies.
To prevent contracting the disease, doctors recommend avoiding grassy, bushy or wooded areas where ticks may be found, and performing a thorough “tick check” after coming inside, to ensure that they have not been bitten.
Visit Allergies.news for more information about allergies caused by ticks and other insects in the wild.
Watch the video below to know how to identify common bug bites and what to do about them.
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