From 2010 to 2022, more than 110,000 suspected cases of alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) were identified, a syndrome triggered by tick bites. Recent reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate an increase in AGS figures, estimating that as many as 450,000 people in the United States are impacted by the condition.

AGS is a tick-borne illness that leads to allergic reactions from the consumption of red meat, including meat from cows, deer, pigs, or goats. This allergy can be potentially life-threatening. Symptoms typically appear two to six hours after consuming meat or dairy products, or after exposure to products that may contain alpha-gal. Reactions can vary from mild to severe, including hives, rash, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea, cough, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, swelling, dizziness, fainting, or severe stomach pain.

Alpha-gal is transmitted through tick bites, particularly from the lone star tick. When ticks feed on mammals, the alpha-gal enters their saliva. When a person is bitten by an infected tick, their body recognizes alpha-gal as a foreign invader, leading to the production of antibodies and an allergic response upon consumption of alpha-gal-containing foods.

To prevent AGS, the CDC advises individuals to take precautions against tick bites, such as avoiding wooded, grassy, or bushy areas where ticks may be present, walking in the center of trails, and treating clothing and gear with tick insect repellent. After being outdoors, it is important to check for ticks on your clothes, examine gear and pets for ticks, shower, and perform a thorough tick check.

If diagnosed with AGS, it is recommended to seek the care of an allergist or healthcare provider. Working with a doctor, individuals can identify alpha-gal-containing products that should be avoided. Common foods containing alpha-gal include mammalian meat (beef, pork, lamb, venison, rabbit) and milk-based products. Poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, fruits, and vegetables do not contain alpha-gal.

Although there have been no confirmed deaths associated with AGS, it is essential for healthcare professionals to be aware of the condition in order to properly evaluate, diagnose, and manage patients. Education on tick-bite prevention is also crucial to protect individuals from developing this allergic condition.

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