Ticks and Food Allergies

Posted 8.30.12 | Christine Graham-Garo

A few months ago, I read an interesting article about tick bites causing food allergies in humans.  Specifically, a bite from the lone-star tick will cause humans to have meat allergies.  Reactions to the meat can occur anywhere from 3-6 hours after ingesting the food.  Reactions can show as hives all the way to full blown anaphylactic reactions.  These newly allergic cases are showing up all along the East coast of the United States.

Allergists have found that people with these meat allergies have high blood levels of antibodies for galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose or alpha-gal for short, which is a sugar found in red meat, lamb, and pork.  Often times when we think of food allergies, we think it’s an allergic reaction to the proteins in food, not sugar!  But this allergy is triggered by the sugars in the meat.  This type of food allergy reaction is affecting more than 1,500 Americans.  All known patients who have alpha-gal have had at least 1 tick bite.  One person stated that his IgE levels rose several hundred points after he had multiple tick bites from a hike.

What is also unique about alpha-gal is that it is the first known case of delayed anaphylaxis.  Typically, anaphylaxis reactions show up immediately after eating the allergen.

As we know, the only way to manage any food allergy is to avoid the specific food. A lot of these now meat allergic people are becoming vegetarian to avoid the reactions. More is being investigated on this matter to help us better understand food allergies.

What do you think of these findings?

- Christine

Another link to the report from June 2012.

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