Catch­ing a meat al­lergy

The Week (US) - - News 11 -

While most tick-borne dis­eases cause flu-like symp­toms, one causes a truly bizarre re­ac­tion: a se­vere al­lergy to red meat. Sev­eral hun­dred Amer­i­cans a year now get that con­di­tion from a sin­gle bite from a lone star tick, a species found in the east­ern half of the U.S. Named for the sin­gle white dot on the adult fe­male’s back, the lone star car­ries a sugar molecule called al­pha­gal. When the tick bites some­one, it rewires that per­son’s im­mune sys­tem to pro­duce an­ti­bod­ies that fight al­pha-gal—and al­pha-gal hap­pens to be abun­dant in red meat. Symp­toms in­clude hives, a runny nose, and a con­stricted throat.The re­ac­tion can take hours to man­i­fest and doesn’t hap­pen ev­ery time an in­fected per­son eats meat, mak­ing it hard to di­ag­nose. And there is no known cure. While the CDC doesn’t col­lect data on the con­di­tion, anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests that, like all tick-borne dis­eases, al­pha-gal al­lergy is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon. “Five years ago, we prob­a­bly had about 50 or so pa­tients,” says Cosby Stone, an al­lergy and im­munol­ogy fel­low at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity. “Now we have about 200.”

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