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Alpha-gal syndrome is a tick-related disease that causes people to become allergic to animal proteins, making them sick when they eat meat. As of 2018 the U.S. had recorded more than 34,000 cases of alpha-gal syndrome in people across the United States

What causes alpha-gal syndrome?
The condition is named after a sugar molecule that is found in most mammals but not in humans. When bitten by a tick carrying the molecule in its saliva, it can cause the immune system to over-react when fighting off this strange intruder. When a person’s immune system over-reacts like this, it can cause it to attack the same molecule in foods, creating a potentially deadly allergy to dairy and meat products.

Signs & symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome

The condition usually develops a couple weeks after a tick bite, causing symptoms ranging from stomach aches, indigestion and nausea after eating to anaphylactic shock. If a tick bite is slow to heal, that can be a warning sign that alpha-gal might develop. “If it’s red, inflamed or itchy, or if a hard knot forms underneath the bite, that seems oddly predictive of people who develop alpha-gal,” says Dr. Scott Commins. (Finan, 2023) If you notice these symptoms, get tested immediately.

Treatment for alpha-gal syndrome

There are currently no known treatments or cures for alpha-gal. On a positive note, like all allergies, it can wane or even disappear with the passage of time. In around 10-15% of cases, “it can completely resolve,” says Commins. Allergen exposure therapy (building up immunity by exposing the body to an allergen in small doses so it learns to tolerate the substance and view it as benign again) may cure the disease. But you should consult a doctor before trying this, and if the allergy is severe, it needs to be done in a controlled medical setting.

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