People who live in the southern and central areas of the United States may face a higher risk of meat allergy linked to lone-star tick bites than people in other parts of the country, according to a new study.
Rates of the allergy to alpha-gal (short for galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, which is a sugar carbohydrate in red meat) are 32 percent higher in these parts of the U.S., where there is also a higher prevalence of lone-star ticks.
The researchers found that there were higher-than-expected rates of the allergy in some western and north-central parts of the country, a finding that suggests "other species of ticks, or possibly human factors, may play a role in allergic reactions to alpha-gal," Dr. Stanley Fineman, M.D., the president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said in a statement.
Alpha-gal manifests with symptoms of allergic reaction three to six hours after a person eats meat. Symptoms include asthma, anaphylaxis, sneezing, nausea, hives and headaches. Past research has linked bites from lone-star ticks specifically to this strange form of allergy.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be regarded as preliminary.
CNN reported earlier this year that the exact mechanism for how the lone star tick bites might cause the meat allergy is not exactly known. But "perhaps there is an organism in the tick's saliva that makes a person allergic to the alpha-gal sugar in mammalian meat," Dr. Scott Commins, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia who has published research on alpha-gal allergy, told CNN.