On 29th July 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) produced two reports that show the rate of Americans developing a rare red meat allergy from tick bites is rising, and many doctors know very little about it. Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) is a potentially life-threatening allergy to mammals’ flesh that is linked to the saliva of the lone star tick. This potentially lethal red meat allergy may already have impacted as many as 450,000 U.S. citizens.
AGS is a serious allergic condition some people experience after they consume food or products containing alpha-gal (galactose-α-1,3-galactose), a sugar molecule found in most mammals but not naturally found in humans. People bitten by the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), may become ill after consuming red meat (flesh from cows, rabbits, deer, sheeps, etc.) and other animal products such as gelatine, dairy, and certain pharmaceuticals. These ticks are mostly found in southern and eastern parts of the USA, but they could go further north with the heating of the planet.
The reports show that, between 2010 and 2022, there were more than 110,000 suspected cases of alpha-gal syndrome identified, but, because its diagnosis requires a positive diagnostic test and a clinical exam, between 96,000 and 450,000 Americans may have been affected. Fewer vegans have this allergy, even if bitten by the tick, as they consume fewer products containing alpha-gal (they may still get it from medicines or highly processed food where Carrageenan, a substance derived from some red algae, has been used).
One of the papers is titled “Geographic Distribution of Suspected Alpha-gal Syndrome Cases — United States, January 2017–December 2022,” and it concludes that, from 2017 to 2021, the number of cases increased by about 15,000 per year.
The other paper is titled “Health Care Provider Knowledge Regarding Alpha-gal Syndrome — United States, March–May 2022,” and it reports on a nationwide survey of health care providers (HCP). It shows that 42% of the 1,500 respondents were not aware of AGS, another 35% were not confident in their ability to diagnose or manage AGS patients, and only 5% said they were “very confident” in their ability.