Learn About the Alpha-gal Allergy, how it Relates to the Lone Star Tick & How to Protect Yourself from Tick Bites
Tick-borne diseases are a major health concern, and it’s important to be aware of a relatively new one that is particularly dangerous: lone star tick meat allergy. Imagine developing mysterious allergy symptoms practically overnight, only to learn that there’s a tick that makes you allergic to meat — possibly for years or longer.
This is exactly what can happen after getting a lone star tick bite.
Scientists first noticed the phenomenon back in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2012 that it became clear that this new allergic reaction was caused by the lone star tick and its bite. This tiny pest was once common predominantly in the southern United States, but the species has since spread throughout 39 states, including those in the Northeast like Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Lone star ticks are small, typically measuring one-half inch after feeding. Females have a single, distinctive white spot on their backs, while males may have several spots on top of their bodies. These pests are known to be aggressive when it comes to biting humans, and their bite can lead to what is becoming known as lone star tick meat allergy, or alpha-gal allergy or alpha-gal syndrome.
The Alpha-Gal Allergy
Anyone can get alpha-gal syndrome, which is also commonly referred to as an alpha-gal allergy or a tick bite meat allergy. Experts believe that up to 3% of Americans may have an alpha-gal allergy — a number that could very well grow as the lone star tick continues to spread.
This serious allergic reaction occurs after eating something that contains alpha galactose or “alpha-gal,” which is a sugar molecule found in the cells of many mammals.
Meats like beef and pork contain alpha-gal, and it’s also found in products made from mammals, including milk, gelatin, and possibly some vaccines and medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Humans, birds, fish, and reptiles don’t contain alpha-gal.
What is an alpha-gal allergy, and how can a lone star tick bite trigger it? The complex process behind the syndrome can be life threatening.
It is believed that the condition begins after a lone star tick bites an animal host. When feeding on the animal, the tick ingests alpha-gal. Then, when the tick bites a person, it transfers alpha-gal into the bloodstream.
If people are sensitive to the substance, they may develop an allergy that causes a reaction when they’re exposed to or ingest products that contain alpha-gal.
Symptoms of a Lone Star Tick Meat Allergy
The CDC cautions that symptoms typically occur within two to six hours of being exposed to or eating products that contain alpha-gal, and the reaction can be serious or even life-threatening. According to the Mayo Clinic, some signs and symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome include:
- Itchy skin, eczema, or hives
- Sneezing and/or runny nose
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Stomach upset, including pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Swelling in the face, lips, throat, or tongue
People also face the potential risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which is a severe reaction with symptoms like trouble breathing, a weak and/or rapid pulse, dizziness, or fainting. If someone shows signs of anaphylaxis, it’s critical to call 911 and seek help immediately.
What to Do if You Think You Have an Alpha-Gal Allergy
If you have symptoms of a food allergy after eating — even if it’s up to six hours after eating, it’s important to see a doctor.
Doctors can help treat and manage alpha-gal syndrome. Some people may have to avoid eating the meat of most mammals, including beef, venison, pork, and lamb.
A medical professional may also recommend avoiding other foods that contain alpha-gal, such as gelatin and dairy products. Additionally, it will be important to try to avoid future tick bites, which could reactivate an alpha-gal allergy.
How to Protect Yourself from Lone Star Tick Bites
The tick/alpha-gal syndrome connection isn’t the only reason to actively protect yourself from tick bites. These pests can also transmit other diseases, including ehrlichiosis and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), both of which have symptoms that include muscle pain and fever.
Like the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s especially true when it comes to preventing lone star tick bites.
Avoiding wooded areas with brush, tall grass, and using insect repellents with at least 20% DEET concentration can help to prevent tick bites. Additional tips to protect yourself and your family include:
- Treat clothing with 0.5% permethrin or buy gear that is pre-treated.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks when exploring any grassy or wooded areas.
- After being outside, make sure to thoroughly check clothing and your skin for ticks.
- Shower as soon as possible when moving indoors to help get rid of ticks that aren’t attached yet.
- Remove any ticks that are attached, ideally using fine-tipped tweezers and a smooth motion to pluck the tick away from the skin.
Tick seasons seem to get worse every year. Tick-proofing your home turf can provide extra peace of mind and help protect everyone not only from lone star tick bites, but also from the bites of other ticks that can also transmit diseases.
Preventing tick infestations starts with working with a trusted pest control specialist. At Catseye Pest Control, we offer a safe, effective treatment process to kill existing ticks and prevent them from entering your property in the future.
Our one-of-a-kind organic program is safe for those on the property of your home or business — including people and animals while eliminating the threat of ticks.
To learn more about our three-step tick control process, contact us today to speak with an expert who can help you take critical steps to protect your family from tick-related illnesses.
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