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According to the CDC, cases of Alpha-gal syndrome, a meat allergy linked to tick bites, are increasing.

Researchers report that the incidence of a rare meat allergy caused by tick bites is on the rise among Americans and may have already affected up to 450,000 individuals. According to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a significant surge in cases of alpha-gal syndrome, an allergy that can lead to potentially life-threatening reactions to various types of meat and animal products.

US scientists have identified the source of this allergy as saliva from the lone star tick, recognizable by the white spot on its back, primarily found in the southern and eastern regions of the US. Climate change is causing the tick’s range to expand, posing a greater risk to individuals.

Bites from the lone star tick can result in illness when consuming certain meat and animal products derived from mammals. The list of foods that can trigger reactions in individuals with alpha-gal syndrome includes pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, venison, gelatine, milk, some dairy products, and specific pharmaceuticals.

Symptoms of this syndrome can vary from person to person and may manifest as stomach cramps, diarrhea, hives, and shortness of breath, potentially leading to fatal anaphylaxis. The severity of reactions can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening, requiring urgent medical attention.

The CDC notes that not everyone will experience an allergic reaction after every exposure to alpha-gal, which further complicates the understanding and management of this condition. Detecting symptoms of meat allergies can be quite challenging due to the slow digestion of meat in the body. The CDC reports over 110,000 cases detected since 2010, with an annual increase of approximately 15,000 cases from 2017 to 2021.

Given the diagnostic difficulties, the CDC estimates that up to 450,000 Americans may have developed meat allergies related to alpha-gal. A recent survey conducted among 1,500 doctors and health workers revealed that 42% of them were unaware of the syndrome. In the same survey, released by the CDC on Thursday, about one-third of the respondents expressed “not too confident” in their ability to identify the disease, while only 5% felt “very confident.”

The syndrome’s accidental discovery occurred in 2008 during drug testing for cancer treatment by US researchers. In addition to the lone star tick causing meat allergies in the US, the Ixodes holocyclus, also known as the paralysis tick, has caused similar allergies in the Sydney region of Australia. Experts emphasize the importance of covering up while outdoors and regularly checking for tick bites, as ticks can transmit various dangerous illnesses, including Lyme disease, with warmer months being the most common time for tick activity.

To protect against ticks, the CDC advises using insect repellents containing DEET or pre-treating clothing with permethrin when spending time outdoors.

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