(NEXSTAR) — Have you had any strange reactions to red meat or milk products recently? You may have developed new allergies to a certain type of sugar and a creature called the lone star tick may be to blame.
The potentially life-threatening allergic reaction is called the alpha-gal syndrome, or AGS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says AGS can be triggered by a bite from a lone star tick, which is species present in most areas of the U.S., though are less common up north and out west.
Alpha-gal is a sugar molecule that’s found in most mammals and can also be found in their meat. Alpha-gal is found in pork, beef, lamb and venison. Allergic reactions include hives and rash, diarrhea, nausea, shortness of breath, low blood pressure and swelling of lips, throat, tongue and eyelids.
Reactions set in between two and six hours after contact, the CDC says. While symptoms range from mild to serious (anaphylaxis can occur), you should contact your doctor if you think you may have AGS.
While the CDC says more data is still needed, recent information points ever clearer to a rise in cases. Research published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology scholarly journal indicated an increase in positive test results from 1,110 in 2011 to 7,798 in 2018. At least 34,000 people had been diagnosed with the syndrome as of that time.
Researchers say treatment involves taking antihistamines and adjusting diets to avoid mammalian products. Over time and with physicians’ advice, people can re-introduce meats and mammal products back into diets.
Identifying lone star ticks
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has a few ways to spot lone star ticks:
- Females have an obvious whitish dot on their backs
- Males don’t have the dot but have whitish markings at the edges of their bodies
- Nymphs (young) lone star ticks are more circular than adults, which are more egg-shaped. They’re also obviously smaller than adults
CAES said that while adults are more active in spring and early summer, nymphs are most active from April through summer. All lone star ticks are active in the summer months.
Both the CDC and other researchers warn lone star ticks are likely not the only ticks causing the spread of AGS.
Ticks are also well-known to pose the threat of spreading Lyme disease to humans.
Tick safety measures include wearing long sleeves, pants tucked into socks and closed-toed shoes, using repellants on both clothing and exposed skin, and avoiding high grass or flora, if possible. Doing full-body checks for ticks after being outside is also a must, and should be followed by a shower. Perform proper tick removal if you do find one on your skin.