mother in jeans and a t-shirt and wearing a backpack sprays tick repellent on her son’s pants and hiking boots as he looks on while wearing a backpack and holding a walking stick on a forest trail


How a tick bite could make you allergic to meat

  • Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) is a potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Evidence suggests that AGS is primarily associated with Lone Star ticks in the U.S.
  • AGS reactions range from mild to severe and can affect young and old.

You may have heard how a tick bite can lead to serious issues like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but what about alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) and a meat allergy?

AGS is a food allergy that’s increasing across the U.S. It makes people allergic to red meat and other products made from mammals. Symptoms commonly appear 2-4 hours after eating and include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling of the lips, throat, tongue or eyelids
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Digestive issues
  • Respiratory issues

The tick, the bite and the allergy

The tick: In the U.S., the problem usually begins with a bite from the Lone Star tick. The aggressive tick gets its name from a distinctive dot on the female’s back and is found throughout the eastern, southeastern and south-central U.S. The tick’s distribution, range and abundance have all increased over the past 20-30 years.

The bite: The Lone Star tick’s bite transfers a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into the body. In some people, the molecule creates an allergic reaction within a few hours of eating meat or mammal products.

The allergy: People who develop AGS after a tick bite may become allergic to red meats — specifically beef, pork, lamb and venison. They may also develop a sensitivity to dairy, gelatin and other products derived from mammals.

The primary advice for newly diagnosed patients with AGS is to avoid mammal meats. Alternatives include:

  • Poultry meat and eggs
  • Fish and other seafood
  • Fruits and vegetables

Avoiding tick bites

The best advice for steering clear of AGS and its consequences is to avoid ticks and their bites. Take precautions, especially during warmer months when ticks are most active:

  • Treat clothing, gear and yourself with proper repellents.
  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter.
  • Walk in the center of trails.

After a day outdoors, check your clothes and gear for stowaway ticks, shower or bathe, and do a full-body check. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body, paying special attention to these areas:

  • In and around the ears and hair
  • Around the waist
  • In the belly button
  • Under the arms
  • Behind the knees
  • Between the legs

Removing a tick

If you discover a tick, remove it using clean, fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands. Dispose of the tick by wrapping it tightly in tape, putting it in a sealed bag or flushing it down the toilet.

Worth noting: See a doctor if you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick. Tell them about your tick bite, including when and where it likely occurred.


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