The CDC says alpha-gal may have affected as many as 450,000 in the U.S.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that as many as 450,000 people in the U.S. may have been affected by the tick-borne disease alpha-gal syndrome (AGS). Sometimes referred to as the red meat allergy or the tick-bite meat allergy, AGS cases are rising and can be potentially life-threatening.
USA Today reports that more than 110,000 suspected cases of alpha-gal syndrome were identified between 2010 and 2022. The CDC explains that an AGS diagnosis requires a positive diagnostic test and a clinical exam. But many suffering from the allergy may never know because researchers found that 78 percent of healthcare providers surveyed had little or no knowledge of the condition, and many who did were unsure of how to diagnose it.
Dr. Scott Commins, a University of North Carolina researcher who co-authored papers on the allergy published by the CDC, told the Associated Press that AGS is the tenth most common food allergy in the U.S.
The CDC explains that alpha-gal is a serious allergic condition some people experience after consuming food or products containing alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is a sugar found in the meat of mammals, such as pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, and venison, and products made from mammals, such as gelatin, cow’s milk and milk products, and some pharmaceuticals. The sugar is not found in humans or apes.
While AGS primarily results from the bite of a lone star tick in the U.S., other types of ticks may transmit the disease as well. More people have tested positive in the southern, midwestern, and mid-Atlantic regions of the country than in other regions.
“Alpha-gal syndrome is an important emerging public health problem with potentially severe health impacts that can last a lifetime for some patients,” said Dr. Ann Carpenter, epidemiologist and lead author of one of the research papers, in a statement.
“It’s critical for clinicians to be aware of AGS so they can properly evaluate, diagnose, and manage their patients and also educate them on tick-bite prevention to protect patients from developing this allergic condition.”
“The burden of alpha-gal syndrome in the United States could be substantial given the large percentage of cases suspected to be going undiagnosed due to non-specific and inconsistent symptoms, challenges seeking healthcare, and lack of clinician awareness,” said Dr. Johanna Salzer, senior author of both papers, in a statement.
“It’s important that people who think they may suffer from AGS see their healthcare provider or an allergist, provide a detailed history of symptoms, get a physical examination, and a blood test that looks for specific antibodies [proteins made by your immune system] to alpha-gal.”
Symptoms often appear two to six hours after consuming food or other exposure to products containing alpha-gal.
SYMPTOMS OF AGS:
* Hives or itchy rash
* Nausea or vomiting
* Heartburn or indigestion
* Diarrhea or severe stomach pain
* Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
* Drop in blood pressure
* Swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eyelids
* Dizziness or faintness
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