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Doctors see increase in food allergy caused by lone star tick bite

The bite can cause Alpha-Gal syndrome and it is causing people to become sick after eating meat and dairy.

Matt Trapani and Chris Keating

Jul 31, 2023, 9:20 PM

Updated 324 days ago

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The lone star tick is the primary suspect for creating an allergy to meat that is causing hundreds of thousands of people to become sick. It is called Alpha-Gal syndrome and it is causing people to become sick after eating meat and in some cases, dairy.
Kim Conway lives in Howell Township and used to enjoy going to the Manasquan Reservoir to walk on the trials. But she says that she will not do this any longer after she contracted Alpha-Gal syndrome. She says that if she was bitten by a lone star tick again, her symptoms could become worse.
Conway was bitten in May while she was in her backyard gardening.
"I started to notice right after that that every time I ate beef, I became very violently ill,” she says. "About two weeks after that, after eating beef again, I actually broke out in hives all over my arm and my tongue swelled to the roof of my mouth."
Conway says that she was diagnosed with Alpha-Gal syndrome within two weeks. She is now allergic to meat and any mammal product, including dairy.
She says that it has upended her life. She cannot eat out at restaurants for fear of cross-contamination. And she had to change most of her medications because gelatin products are also a trigger.
“Ninety-nine percent of the capsules in the United States are pig and cow. All soft gels are bovine,” Conway says.
Alpha-Gal is a sugar, and it is one that allergists say is in the saliva of the lone star tick.
"It's the first allergy we are aware of that is caused by an external exposure,” says Dr. Erin McGintee.
McGintee is an allergist in South Hampton, New York, where lone star ticks are prevalent.
"I've been caring for this allergy for the past 10 to 11 years and I see it fairly regularly. I've accumulated close to 900 patients,” she says.
She's seen the illness increase as it has spread from the central United States to the south and now the northeast as ticks move with their hosts, which are primarily deer.
"Deer are getting crowded out because of building and lack of food so they are moving into other areas, so the more the deer spread, the more the tick will spread,” McGintee says.
McGintee says meat allergy effects can fade.
"I would say it eventually gets better over a two-to-three-year period,” she says. But if someone is bit again, the symptoms can get worse. That’s a worry for Conway who will never eat meat again.
McGintee says if someone gets bit by a lone star tick, they should not panic. Not everyone will get a meat allergy. It is also not contagious. If you're concerned see an allergist.


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