As many as 450,000 Americans may be living with alpha-gal syndrome, a meat allergy that has been linked to tick bites, with many of those people going undiagnosed, according to two new studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In one of the new studies, both of which were published on Thursday, scientists reviewed the laboratory results of people who had been tested for the telltale #antibodies, identifying 110,000 suspected cases since 2010.
Alpha-gal syndrome, which was not formally identified until the 2000s, 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 not present in humans or other apes.) Lone star ticks, which scientists believe are the primary culprits of the disease in the United States, 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 may include hives, nausea, diarrhea or anaphylactic shock. Even patients who have the syndrome may not feel sick every time they eat meat. “It’s consistently inconsistent,” Dr. Salzer said. “So this makes it a real challenge for health care providers.”
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