Health alarm as hundreds of thousands could have 'life-threatening' meat allergy caused by ticks

American health authorities issued a warning over a ‘little-known’ tick-borne condition that could cause a deadly reaction to meat. Here is all your need to know.

Health alarm as hundreds of thousands could have 'life-threatening' meat allergy caused by ticks
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Health alarm as hundreds of thousands could have 'life-threatening' meat allergy caused by ticks

The new report reveals that since 2010 between 96,000 and 450,000 Americans may have been affected by alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), a potentially life-threatening red meat allergy caused by a certain type of tick.

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Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fear that many doctors remain unaware of this potentially life-threatening condition and how to treat it.

Its symptoms include skin rash, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, faintness, and many others.

Lone-star ticks whose saliva is blamed for AGS are ‘very aggressive’ insects that bite humans and can be found across the south of the US.

Here is everything you need to know.

CDC: AGS is an ‘important emerging public health problem’

As many as 450,000 Americans may be living with alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), a meat allergy that has been linked to lone-star tick bites.

Studies reveal that 78% of healthcare providers had little or no knowledge of the condition and were not sure how to diagnose it.

Dr Maya Jerath, an allergist and immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, who has treated hundreds of patients with AGS, said:

This is a story that every patient of mine tells me, that ‘I had to go to five physicians before they could tell me what it was.

She believes that the concerns raised by the health authorities are ‘definitely a call to action.’

CDC epidemiologist, Ann Carpenter, called the condition ‘an important emerging public health problem, with potentially severe health impacts that can last a lifetime for some patients’.

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What is an alpha-gal syndrome?

The condition takes its name from galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, a sugar present in beef, pork, lamb and the meat of most other mammals. It is relatively new and has not been formally identified until the 2000s.

Lone star ticks, which scientists believe are the primary culprits of the disease in the US, can transmit the sugar to people through a bite.

Some people’s immune systems may then label this foreign sugar a threat and overreact to its presence the next time they eat meat.

The symptoms, which often take hours to appear, are wide-ranging and ‘consistently inconsistent’, presenting ‘a real challenge for health care providers’.

They include hives or itchy rash, nausea or vomiting, heartburn or indigestion,diarrhoea, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eyelids, dizziness or faintness, or severe stomach pain.

In some cases, individuals can experience anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that occurs when an over-release of chemicals puts the person into shock and impact multiple organ systems.

According to CDC, people with suspected AGS were predominantly located in Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Suffolk County, New York.

Here is what to do to prevent AGS

Preventing tick bites is important and may reduce your chances of developing AGS.

Avoid grassy, brushy, and wooded areas, where ticks may be found and walk in the centre of trails when you go outside.

Check your clothing for ticks, treat it with permethrin or buy pre-treated items. Use environmentally-friendly insect repellents.

Always examine gear and pets for ticks when you come back indoors.

If you find an attached tick, remove it immediately.

Take tick-prevention measures to protect your pets and your garden.

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Sources used:

- The New York Times: 'A Half-Million Americans May Have Tick-Linked Meat Allergy, C.D.C. Says'

- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 'Alpha-gal Syndrome'

- The Guardian: 'Nearly half a million in US may have been affected by tick-bite meat allergy'

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