What Is Alpha-gal Syndrome and How to Avoid It

What Is Alpha-gal Syndrome?

Alpha-gal syndrome has been recently identified as a type of food allergy to red meat. It is caused by a sugar molecule called alpha-gal, which triggers an immune system reaction that in turn causes allergic reactions to the consumption of red meat. The reactions can range from mild to severe.

Alpha-gal is usually transmitted by a Lone Star tick’s bite.

What Are The Symptoms of Alpha-gal Syndrome?

The symptoms of AGS typically manifest a few hours after consuming red meat and may include hives, itching, swelling, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Diagnosing AGS can be challenging, as its delayed onset and the rarity of the condition often lead to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

How Does Alpha-gal Syndrome Spread?

Usually, a bite from Lone Star tick causes people to develop this allergy to red meat. The allergy is related to a carbohydrate called alpha-gal, which causes an immune reaction when it enters a human body. In fact, the tick has been said to be the initiator of the red meat allergy in the US.


Affected Regions In The United States

The prevalence of AGS has been steadily increasing, with a notable geographic expansion beyond its initial range. The reasons for this increase are not yet fully understood but may involve factors such as changes in tick populations, climate shifts, and altered human behaviors leading to greater exposure to ticks. 

In the United States it is predominantly found in the southeastern and eastern parts of the country. Additionally, the condition has also been diagnosed in certain parts of Asia, Australia, and Europe, where other types of ticks carry the alpha-gal molecules.

How many cases in the United States in 2017?

According to CDC, there is an estimated 450,000 cases of Alpha-gal Syndrome in the United States since 2017. Below is a breakdown of the US Department of Health and Human Services approximate numbers in their Alpha-gal Syndrome Subcommittee Report.

  • The triennial 2018 Chatham County Health Assessment reported 862 people out of a total population of 73,139 had AGS in Chatham County NY.
  • An allergist, Dr. Erin McGintee of Ear, Nose, Throat and Allergy Associates in Southampton, NY said she has had 530 AGS patients as of August 2019.
  • Several local or regional AGS Facebook Support Groups exist in at least sixteen different states in the US as of October 2019. The list of states consists of Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

How To Avoid Alpha-Gal Syndrome And Protect Yourself

The best way to avoid contracting the Alpha-Gal Syndrome is to avoid tick-prone areas. Especially the woods or other brushy areas with long grass.

A few other precautionary measures to avoid ticks are

  • Covering yourself up with long sleeves and long pants
  • Using insect repellents (buy the Environment Protection Agency-registered repellents)
  • Making sure your yard is completely tick-proof
  • Checking yourself, your children and pets for ticks (every day in case you live in areas populated by ticks)
  • Taking a shower as soon as you come indoors
  • Removing a tick as soon as possible with tweezers (try not to crush the tick, pull it by the head and treat the feeding site with some antiseptic afterward)
  • Taking precautionary steps to prevent ticks in your yard and on your pets. Follow this guide to check your dog for ticks.

Should I see a doctor?

Consult a doctor, specifically an allergist if you experience any signs of food allergy after eating red meat. Don't dismiss the signs just because they appear several hours after eating.

Pay special attention to symptoms if you live in the southeastern states or any other part of the world that has a history of the Alpha-Gal Syndrome.

You should seek immediate emergency medical treatment if you develop signs of anaphylaxis. It may include difficulty rapid or weak pulse, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, drooling or inability to swallow, full-body redness or flushing.

For more information on other tick-borne diseases and illnesses, read our guide about other common tick diseases in the United States.

Diseases & vectorsPest control

1 comment

Victoria Addington

Victoria Addington

As a vegan, I have always been curious about what an Alpha-Gal syndrome is and how do you get it. According to your blog, a bite from Lone Star tick can cause people to develop this allergy to red meat. Thanks for you suggestion on how to avoid contracting the Alpha-Gal Syndrome by refraining to pick tick-prone areas. I shall then ask my parents and siblings to be mindful about this. https://alphagalinformation.org/what-is-ags/

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