New tick disease causing a scare; bites causing meat allergies
An emerging meat allergy that is sweeping the southeast part of the country has come to Hancock County in Western Kentucky and the cause, according to allergists, is a bite from the Lone Star tick.
The alpha-gal allergy, as it's commonly known, is an allergy to galactose-alpha-1,3 galactose, a carbohydrate found in all mammals except humans and primates.
"What it is, is that you have middle aged adults typically that have been eating these meats for many years and all of a sudden develop severe reactions, Dr. Lee S. Clore Jr., MD, a physician at Allergy & Asthma Specialists in Owensboro, who has been treating patients for this allergy, said.
Researchers at the University of Virginia have tied the allergy to the bite from a Lone Star tick and the bites, they say, are usually six to 12 months before the allergic reactions begin.
"The thought is not that the tick is carrying any disease," Clore said, "but that the tick sort of flips a switch in the immune system that causes this reactivity to suddenly begin.
"What happens is you start to have funny reactions with hives and swelling and itching," he said. "It may start on your face or your trunk or your arms and then sometimes it goes on to involve vomiting and diarrhea and being light headed and passing out, so they can have a full blown allergic reaction, and full blown anaphylaxis."
But the allergy is different in that it doesn't hit immediately after eating.
"It's usually delayed, unlike other food allergies we see traditionally," he said, "So you eat the hamburger, you have a steak and then 6 or 8 hours later you have a funny reaction."
Clore said that unlike most allergies which are caused by proteins, in this case it's a sugar - an exception to the rule.
The Lone Star tick is common in Hancock County where tick bites are a way of life that includes hunting and working outdoors.
One of the first Hancock County residents to be diagnosed was Dave Case in 2008.
He and his wife went to a restaurant where he ate a hamburger. Four hours later he was in a hospital emergency room and didn't know what was wrong.
After weeks of testing, Dr. Clore decided it was an uncommon meat allergy.
The doctor has now taken Case off all red meat, he said.
For a while, Case was the doctor's only patient with the meat allergy but now there are about 50 others."
"In the past year, oh my gosh, it's just exploded," Clore said.
Clore said his friends in Nashville and Virginia reports numerous cases there too.
A new commercial test is now available which makes it easier to diagnose people with alpha-gal allergy, the doctor said.
He tells patients they should avoid eating red meat and instead eat fowl or fish.
As of now, there's no cure - only avoidance.
Reprinted by permission from the KPA
Story By Dave Taylor
The Hancock Clarion