Up to 500,000 Americans may have Tick-Borne Meat Allergy Syndrome.

Up to 500,000 Americans may have Tick-Borne Meat Allergy Syndrome.

Tick Bites Can Trigger Meat Allergy, More Americans Affected Than Thought

Tick Bites

Tick bites are not only known for causing Lyme disease but can also be the reason behind a serious meat allergy in more Americans than previously believed, according to recent research. This condition known as alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) may potentially affect hundreds of thousands of Americans, a number significantly underestimated due to lack of awareness among doctors in diagnosing and treating it.

Underestimated Prevalence

One study conducted by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 110,000 suspected cases of AGS between 2010 and 2022. However, due to the requirement of specific diagnostic tests and clinical examination, many individuals may not get tested, leading to a probable estimate of up to 450,000 affected Americans.

The study analyzed lab results from 2017 to 2022, focusing on a laboratory that had been the primary commercial provider of AGS testing in the United States. Out of more than 300,000 tested samples, over 30% exhibited AGS infection. These findings highlight the significance of AGS as a growing public health problem with potential long-term health consequences for patients.

Lack of Familiarity Among Healthcare Providers

In a separate study by the same CDC researchers, it was discovered that many healthcare providers are unfamiliar with AGS. The survey, which involved 1,500 family doctors, internists, pediatricians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, revealed that 42% had not even heard of AGS. Additionally, one-third expressed a lack of confidence in diagnosing and managing patients with the syndrome, while only 5% felt “very confident” in their abilities.

This lack of familiarity among healthcare providers highlights the need for increased education and awareness regarding AGS, a potentially life-threatening allergic condition.

Understanding Alpha-Gal Syndrome

AGS is an allergic reaction that occurs in some individuals after consuming food or products containing alpha-gal, a sugar found in meats such as pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, and venison. It is also present in gelatin, cow’s milk, milk products, and certain pharmaceuticals.

While evidence suggests that AGS is associated with lone star tick bites, the researchers have acknowledged that other types of ticks could also be contributors. The Southern, Midwestern, and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States have reported higher prevalence rates of AGS.

Seeking Proper Diagnosis and Management

It is essential for individuals who suspect they may have AGS to consult their healthcare provider or an allergist. Providing a detailed history of symptoms and undergoing a physical examination, as well as a blood test to detect specific antibodies to alpha-gal, can help in diagnosing the condition accurately.

Symptoms of AGS can include hives or itchy rash, nausea or vomiting, heartburn or indigestion, diarrhea, cough, shortness of breath, drop in blood pressure, swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eyelids, dizziness or faintness, and severe stomach pain. These symptoms typically manifest within two to six hours after consuming meat or products containing alpha-gal.

Allergy Question

The importance of early diagnosis and appropriate management cannot be overstated, considering the potentially severe and long-lasting effects of AGS. Patients should also be educated about tick bite prevention to minimize their chances of developing this allergic condition.

Both of these studies, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shed light on the significant burden of AGS in the United States. With a large percentage of cases suspected to be undiagnosed due to non-specific symptoms and clinician unawareness, addressing this issue is crucial to ensure proper care for affected individuals.


Tick bites can have far-reaching consequences beyond Lyme disease, as they can trigger an allergic reaction to meat in the form of alpha-gal syndrome. The growing prevalence of AGS in the United States calls for increased awareness among healthcare providers. Timely diagnosis, management, and education about tick bite prevention are necessary to tackle this emerging public health problem effectively.

ReferencesU.S. Centers for Disease Control and PreventionNews Release, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention