Friday, May 10, 2013

Alpha-Gal Syndrome: One more reason to look out for ticks


Lone Star Tick from CDC
via the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.
We're not big consumers of red meat here at the Natural Capital. In fact, I haven't eaten it in years. But Matt has been known to eat a burger now and then...until recently.

The last three times he has eaten red meat -- even organic, free range meat -- he has broken out in hives. Itchy, all-body, take-several-Benadryls-and-go-to-bed-til-it's-over hives.

For some people, the reaction can be even worse: they can go into anaphylactic shock.

The culprit? Researchers at the University of Virginia think it's tick spit.

More precisely, the spit of lone star ticks that contains a sugar known as alpha-gal (galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose) -- a sugar that's also in red meat. If a tick bites you, and the alpha-gal gets into your bloodstream, you may develop antibodies to it. Then, when you eat that hamburger, your immune system attacks the alpha-gal, releases lots of histamines, and you end up with hives...or worse.

There are over 1,500 reported cases of alpha-gal syndrome, and probably many more that have gone unreported -- including Matt.

Lyme disease is still much more prevalent and problematic than alpha-gal syndrome. But as with Lyme disease, the DC area is right on the edge of the highest-prevalence area.

I've written before about how important it is to avoid tick bites and to get any ticks that do bite out as soon as possible. If you like to eat meat, you can now add this as one more reason to be vigilant.