5 notes on the tick-borne syndrome many physicians are unfamiliar with

 In July, the CDC published findings indicating up to 450,000 people in the U.S. may have alpha-gal syndrome, a tick-borne meat allergy most clinicians are unfamiliar with. 

Five things to know about alpha-gal syndrome, based on information from the CDC and a report from The New York Times: 


  • It's named after the sugar molecule galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, which is found in most mammalian meat. A person can develop the syndrome when they're bit by a lone star tick and the sugar is transmitted. Some people's immune system may then label the alpha-gal molecule as a threat, causing it to overreact when they eat meat. 


  • Symptoms of the condition are wide-ranging and include hives, heartburn, and nausea, and in serious cases, anaphylactic shock. Symptoms typically take two to six hours after eating products that contain the molecule to appear. 


  • Clinicians are largely unfamiliar with the condition, which makes diagnosis a challenge. It is diagnosed through a blood test that determines whether a patient has antibodies to alpha-gal. 


  • The condition can be lifelong, experts told the Times. However, it's "consistently inconsistent," since symptoms may not appear every single time a person eats meat, said Johanna Salzer, PhD, disease ecologist and author of recent CDC findings on the condition. 


  • Lone star ticks are believed to be the culprit, but more research is needed to determine other potential sources, as well as the condition's true prevalence. Estimates indicate up to 450,000 people could have the syndrome, but it's a crude estimate, researchers said, given the absence of a national surveillance system. 


Read more about alpha-gal syndrome here

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