The air is crisp, the leaves are falling, and you’re about to go outdoors to enjoy nature’s most beautiful display. Don’t forget to protect yourself from sunburn, poison oak, and… meat allergy?
Yes. Allergists are seeing a marked rise in cases of alpha-gal syndrome. Those who develop alpha-gal can react to meat with a rash, hives, and life-threatening anaphylaxis. In the Owensboro, Kentucky area, one allergist alone is seeing 400-500 patients with the once-rare syndrome.
One develops alpha-gal via the bite from a Lone Star tick. Proteins in the tick’s saliva mimic the alpha-gal carbohydrate found in mammalian meat including beef and pork. When the body’s immune system produces antibodies to ward off those proteins, it could possibly lead to full-blown allergy.
The tick is found primarily in the southeast and east of the country, as shown in this map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Preventing tick bites is a fairly straightforward affair. The CDC advises the following precautions:
Avoid Direct Contact with Ticks
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
Repel Ticks with DEET or Permethrin
- Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
Find and Remove Ticks from Your Body
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.
- Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors.
- If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.
- If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks effectively. If the clothes cannot be washed in hot water, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes. The clothes should be warm and completely dry.
We urge you to take these precautions now as this is one food allergy that is on the rise but easily preventable.