A mysterious tick-borne disease has sparked fear among public health experts, considering the growing number of people contracting it in recent years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has raised an alarm about Alpha-Gal Syndrome (AGS), an uncommon yet life-threatening food allergy in the United States. Commonly referred to as the “red-meat allergy” or the “tick bite meat allergy,” AGS is initiated by a bite from the Lone Star tick, predominantly found in the Southeastern and Eastern states.
The tick’s saliva contains a sugar molecule called alpha-gal, which enters the body during the bite and triggers allergies to specific red meats like pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, or venison, as well as products derived from mammals such as cheese, milk, other dairy products, and gelatin.
Individuals with AGS may experience severe allergy symptoms shortly after consuming foods containing the allergens. Symptoms include hives, itchy or scaly skin, swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat, wheezing, shortness of breath, and stomach pain, diarrhea, upset stomach, or vomiting.
Despite only coming to the CDC’s attention in 2008, AGS has shown a concerning increase in suspected cases since 2010. According to Dr. Johanna Salzer, a CDC epidemiologist and senior author of a new report, between 2017 and 2021, 30% of the 300,000 tests performed were positive for AGS.
“We have seen an annual increase in the numbers of suspected Alpha-Gal Syndrome cases between 2010 and 2022,” Salzer told Fox News Digital.
However, it’s estimated that the actual number of affected individuals could be much higher, possibly up to 450,000 people, due to underreporting and limited awareness among physicians.
A significant hurdle in diagnosing AGS lies in its diverse presentation and the lack of familiarity among medical professionals. According to a survey of 1,500 physicians and medical professionals, nearly half had never heard of the syndrome, and a third were uncertain about their ability to diagnose or manage patients with AGS. This lack of awareness may lead to delayed diagnosis, with patients facing an average of seven years before receiving a conclusive diagnosis.
Moreover, AGS can exhibit varying reactions within the same individual, making it difficult for both patients and healthcare providers to pinpoint triggering factors. Some people may experience severe anaphylactic reactions, while others only have gastrointestinal symptoms.
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Although AGS is considered a lifelong condition for many, there is a glimmer of hope for some patients. By removing the foods that can reactivate Alpha Gal syndrome from their diet, some individuals may witness a drop in their antibody levels over time.
As of now, there is no known cure or specific treatment for AGS. Physicians play a crucial role in managing patients’ symptoms effectively, providing necessary support, and guiding dietary adjustments to improve the quality of life for those affected by Alpha-Gal Syndrome. Early detection and intervention remain vital in reducing the impact of this tick-borne food allergy on affected individuals.