Who doesn’t love a barbecue on a summer day? The fun of family and friends, a few beers and juicy steak hot off the grill makes me salivate while writing about it. The picnic that includes a slightly burned hot dog, the Italian sausage with peppers and onions and rare hamburger brings up a visual of the perfect Saturday party outdoors. If we close our eyes we can almost feel the stress free environment created by the barbecue and certainly smell the meat cooking.
There is that one guy off to the side eating salad and chicken wings with what appears to be a voracious appetite. He is the one with Alpha Gal allergy, he is the one who was bitten by a Lone Star tick. That day he pulled out the brownish tick with a white spot that altered his life in a way no one anticipated and wasn’t even described in the medical literature until 2009 as “strange meat allergy”. Using the technique of questing a tick attached itself to this unsuspecting victim and stayed long enough to puncture the skin and inject the Alpha-gal molecule. This could take less than an hour. The end result is that this man will probably never be able to eat red meat again without a potential life threatening allergic reaction (Commins & Platts-Mills, 2013).
The Lone Star tick bite transfers galactose alpha 1,3 galactose from its gut into a victim when it bites a human. The human’s immune system then produces an IGE antibody to this sugar in the meat. When the human eats red meat after this process an allergic reaction between the IGE antibody produced by the human’s immune system and the alpha Gal sugar in the meat produces the allergic reaction.
The allergic reaction occurs when an IgE antibody reacts with the alpha gal molecule on the meat resulting in a release of histamine and other vasoactive amines which cause damage to capillary walls resulting in leakage of serum in the body tissues including airspaces in lungs and tissue in skin and other organs. Leakage of serum into the lungs may result in actual drowning of the patient in his own body fluid. This is part of anaphylactic shock and will result in death if not medically treated.
It would seem to the layman this is an easy problem to fix from a tick bite, it is easy to diagnose and easy to avoid by simply giving up meat, but it is not that simple and no one knows at this point if it ever gets better. Remember the physician in our anecdotal has had this for seven years with no change.
Most allergic reactions occur quickly, the bee sting can drop a person in minutes into a life threatening allergic reaction. The child who eats peanuts and gets itchy and has hives can die within minutes. This is not the case with this allergy caused by a tick bite, it is not for 4-8 hours that anyone feels the horrors of the allergic response. Therefore it might take months before the person having this allergy correlates it to the source. Most people look to the last thing they ate and have never read or been told an allergy can take 8 hours to emerge.
Alpha Gal Allergy is a DELAYED 4-6 hours allergic response after eating mammal red meat.
Or mammal products:
- beef broth
- bacon drippings
- protein powder
- cow’s milk
- beef gelatins
Or in medical products:
- chemotherapy known as centuximab
- cardiac pig valves
- beef gelatins used in flu vaccines
- some dental gels
When a person eats mammal meat who has Alpha-Gal antibody the ingested meat causes a histamine release causing the allergy resulting in anaphylaxis. Anaphylactic shock causes death quickly if not treated by medical personnel. The only way to avoid this at this time is by avoiding all mammal products which is a great hardship and sometimes difficult task due to lack of information on the ingredients in many products or prepared meals. Fish and poultry are not mammalian meats and therefore have not been known to produce the allergy in most people.
Commins, S.P., & Platts-Mills, T.A. (2013). Delayed anaphylaxis to red meat in patients with IgE specific for galactose alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). Curr Allergy Asthma Res., 13(1), 72-77. doi: 10.1007/s11882-012-0315