CDC Study: Meat Allergy From Tick Bites Surge

Thousands of Americans have tested positive for a concerning condition triggered by tick bites, resulting in allergic reactions to consuming red meat. Known as alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued warnings about its growing prevalence, deeming it an “emerging public health concern.”

Between 2010 and 2022, officials identified over 110,000 AGS cases nationwide, but research scientists estimate the actual number may be closer to 450,000. Notably, AGS cases are not nationally notifiable to the CDC, which hampers an accurate assessment of its prevalence in the United States.

Consequently, additional data and research are required to better understand the scale of this condition’s impact. Recently released research documents indicate that states harboring established populations of lone star ticks are the most affected, though other tick species have also been linked to AGS cases.

AGS poses a serious and potentially life-threatening allergic condition. It is not caused by an infection, and symptoms can manifest within two to six hours after consuming red meat or being exposed to other mammal-derived products. The condition is also referred to as red meat allergy or tick bite meat allergy.

Bernadine Heller-Greenman, an alpha-gal patient, shared her experience with the Associated Press, explaining that one of the challenges in diagnosing AGS is the difficulty in pinpointing the exact time of the tick bite. Initial signs often include an unidentifiable rash on various body parts.

Symptoms of AGS may encompass hives, itching, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, coughing, shortness of breath, drop in blood pressure, swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eyelids, dizziness, faintness, and severe stomach pain. Johanna Salzer, a co-author of the AGS study, revealed that for some patients, AGS can become a lifelong condition.

However, there have been instances where a few individuals managed to reintroduce alpha-gal into their diet while avoiding future tick bites. Health officials emphasize the importance of raising awareness about AGS, given its significant impact on a large number of people in the U.S.

The ongoing efforts to address this emerging health concern underscore the necessity for increased research and awareness to tackle this complex and potentially dangerous condition effectively.