in the Summer of 2017, Ms Meghann Chapman, a mother of five living on a small farm in Virginia, was working as a wedding photographer. That evening she developed severe stomach pain, cramps, and began vomiting. As most people would, she thought she had a case of food poisoning.
Ms Chapman told Woman’s Day:
As a wedding vendor, I ate whatever the guests ate, which was typically some sort of barbecue, beef, or steak. That evening, I’d had a prime rib for dinner. But throughout the next several wedding weekends, I continued to experience waves of sickness. At first, I thought it was a strange coincidence that I kept getting sick after weddings.
She didn’t think about the incident until a week later when her husband grilled steak for dinner. That night at 1AM she again woke with severe stomach pain along with itching and swelling of her hands and feet. Looking in the mirror, she saw her entire body was covered in two to three-inch welts.
I started feeling really faint and my throat and tongue swelled up. I knew I was having a serious allergic reaction to something, so I woke up my husband and asked him to get me a few Benadryl tablets. Fifteen minutes later, the swelling had worsened, and my itch became so bad that I felt as if the only thing that would stop it would be to burn off my skin. I took three more Benadryl tablets, and my symptoms started to calm down. My husband stayed up with me until the swelling subsided a bit, and I fell back to sleep.
Ms Chapman had previously read an article about the Lone Star tick and alpha-gal syndrome which the ticks spread via their saliva. As we have reported, the syndrome can cause reactions hours after eating red meat.
Living in an area where the ticks are common, Ms Chapman asked her doctor to test her for AGS. A few days later, the doctor called her to tell her she tested positive.
At first, I was only instructed to stay away from beef. I continued eating pork for the next few months, but I developed horrible, poison ivy-like rashes. I suspected the pork was causing my skin issues, so I stopped eating absolutely all mammalian meats.
Her condition worsened to such an extreme that breathing fumes from cooking meat would cause swelling of her throat, trouble breathing, nausea, and headaches.
In mid-2019, Ms Chapman was again bitten by a Lone Star tick which she estimates was only attached for an hour or so. The bite exacerbated her AGS symptoms and she subsequently developed reactions to milk products that would result in an itchy mouth and throat, full-body hives, GI issues, and difficulty breathing.
Ms Chapman’s farm has goats, dogs, and horses. Her eyes would itch and swell whenever she pet them and touched her face. She also developed an allergy to wasps and hornet stings and must carry an epinephrine auto-injector as a precaution. Those suffering with AGS are five times more likely to develop an allergy to insect stings.
She currently takes daily Zyrtec, a common OTC antihistamine, allowing her to care for her animals.
I also have to be extremely careful when my family and I eat out. Many restaurants still don’t understand the alpha-gal allergy and just think I’m a strict vegan, although I *can* still eat poultry and fish (anything with feathers or scales is safe!). Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with reactions from cross-contamination when eating out. Still, a handful of restaurants have been wonderful, and I greatly appreciate their efforts in keeping me safe.
Another important consideration for me is checking the ingredients label on absolutely everything. For example, I’ve run into issues with doctors not understanding the severity of my allergy and prescribing me medications that contain mammalian gelatin or come in gelatin caps. And in my case, basically any gel cap that’s not labeled as vegan or vegetarian-based is unsafe.
Ms Chapman has learned to cope with AGS and hopes the syndrome will abate with time as it does for certain individuals.
All in all, life with alpha-gal syndrome has required a lot of changes, but it isn’t too bad. I hope I can overcome my allergy at some point in my life, but for now, I’m just thankful that I can still go outside and cuddle my goats.
See our article entitled Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About Alpha-gal Syndrome, the Meat Allergy You Can ‘Catch’ for a comprehensive description of AGS and how you can prevent it.