Alpha-Gal Syndrome: Everything You Need To Know About This Tick-Related Meat Allergy

Alpha-gal, more formally known as galactose-a-1 and 3-galactose, is a type of sugar molecule. It is found in most mammals but not fish, reptiles, birds, or people. Humans may consume alpha-gal if they are meat eaters, as the molecule is found in pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, and venison. It is also found in animal products such as milk products and gelatin.

However, the molecule seldom makes it into the human bloodstream through food consumption. Because of this, the molecule typically causes no harm to those that consume it. If a person is bitten by a tick, though, they can develop an allergy to alpha-gal, leading to something called alpha-gal syndrome. While the allergy isn’t always severe, it can lead to serious allergic reactions in some. Read on to learn all you need to know about this potential tick-related meat allergy.

What causes alpha-gal syndrome?

Ticks are rampant in the United States and carry many tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease. When a person gets fed on by a tick, the tick can transmit the alpha-gal sugar molecule into their bloodstream. While the syndrome isn’t strictly considered a tick-borne disease like Lyme disease, it is caused by a bite.

Not everyone who comes into contact with the molecule will wind up having problems, but in some, the immune system reacts to alpha-gal and begins an allergic reaction. Once the molecule is in the body, the next time a person eats meat, they may experience symptoms.

The culprit most responsible for this is the Lone Star tick. This type of tick is found mainly in the southeastern states but can also be found in both the eastern and south-central areas of the country. As Lone Star ticks travel throughout the country on deer and other animals, they begin to spread, and thus, so does the risk of contracting alpha-gal syndrome.

Image by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash: Is alpha-gal related to Lyme disease?

What are the signs and symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome?

Allergic reactions that occur because of alpha-gal syndrome can range from mild to severe. It is difficult to determine who will develop the syndrome and how bad their symptoms will be if they do. Symptoms are almost the same as with other food allergies; however, they tend to take longer to develop, and the onset of symptoms can range anywhere from two to six hours after eating a meat product following the tick bite. 

Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Hives, itchy skin, and/or scaly skin
  • Swelling of the tongue, throat, lips, face, or other areas of the body
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction that causes the throat to close and cuts off a person’s ability to breathe

Sometimes a person may not have an allergic reaction to meat every time they eat it. This makes alpha-gal syndrome even more challenging to predict.

How is alpha-gal syndrome diagnosed?

Since alpha-gal syndrome presents like a typical food allergy, it can be hard to diagnose without proper medical history. The first step in diagnosing the syndrome is collecting personal background. Doctors do this because it’s hard to determine alpha-gal syndrome without evidence of a tick bite.

There are also tests medical professionals can use to diagnose the condition if they suspect it, such as a blood test. A blood test for alpha-gal syndrome looks for antibodies in the bloodstream made in response to the alpha-gal molecule. A skin test may also be done to check for a meat allergy. This test is a little harder and takes more time because different meats will have to be tested.  

How long does alpha-gal syndrome last? 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for alpha-gal syndrome, and the condition is likely permanent once it develops. In some cases, people may recover from the syndrome after years have passed, but this doesn’t happen to everyone, and it’s hard to predict who will recover and who won’t.

Image by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash: How long after a tick bite do you get alpha-gal? This depends on the individual.

What are the treatment options for alpha-gal syndrome?

Because alpha-gal syndrome is incurable, treatment options for the condition are limited. Most people with the disease are simply told to avoid the meat that causes the allergy so they do not have to deal with symptoms. This is especially true for people who have severe or life-threatening allergic reactions.

Avoiding foods with meat products can be difficult because certain foods contain the alpha-gal molecule without it being obvious. For example, gelatin contains alpha-gal, so any products made with gelatin must be avoided to ensure that a person doesn’t experience symptoms. It is essential to read all food labels and call ahead when eating out to ensure that there are options without meat or meat products.

In cases of more severe allergies, a person may be required to carry around an EpiPen in case they come into contact with a product containing alpha-gal. The device ensures that if anaphylaxis occurs, they can attend to severe symptoms while waiting for help to arrive. 

Coping with alpha-gal syndrome isn’t easy, especially if people have enjoyed meat products their whole lives. The best way to avoid alpha-gal syndrome is to protect yourself from tick bites, but if you do develop an allergy, the best thing to do is avoid the foods that set off symptoms and hope that the allergy settles or goes away within two years.

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How Is Lyme Neuropathy Treated?

Lyme disease is a complicated infection that has the power to affect various bodily systems. The bacteria that cause Lyme infiltrate the body via the bloodstream and can camp out in joints, tissues, and other areas to evade detection by antibiotics and the body’s defenses. When Lyme manages to cause harm because of its invasion technique, people can experience debilitating symptoms that range in severity and presentation.  

Some areas of the body that can be affected negatively by Lyme bacteria include the central and peripheral nervous systems. These systems are designed to connect the brain with the rest of the body and send nerve signals that play a role in bodily functions, motor skills, and much more. When Lyme disease affects the nervous system, it is referred to as Lyme neuropathy. But what is Lyme neuropathy, exactly? And how is Lyme neuropathy treated? Read on to learn more.

What is Lyme neuropathy?

Lyme neuropathy is the term used to describe the symptoms that occur when Lyme disease affects the nervous system. There are different types of Lyme neuropathy depending on the nerves or area of the nervous system involved.

Cranial nerve involvement neuropathy occurs when nerves at the back of the brain, known as cranial nerves, are infiltrated and damaged by the Lyme bacteria. Peripheral nerve involvement neuropathy is the type that develops when peripheral nerves are affected. Peripheral nerves sit outside the brain and spinal cord and aid in communication between the brain and body. This part of the nervous system helps to control bodily functions and regulate glands that produce hormones. The final type of Lyme neuropathy develops when the central nervous system is affected. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and controls thought processes, learning, and feelings.

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What does Lyme neuropathy feel like?

Lyme neuropathy will present with different symptoms depending on what part of the nervous system is being attacked. For example, people may develop facial palsy when Lyme bacteria harm the cranial nerves. Facial palsy is characterized as a loss of muscle control in the face. People that have this symptom experience facial drooping.

People who have their peripheral nerves affected will experience other symptoms, such as:

  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Shooting, burning, or sharp pains
  • Leg and arm weakness
  • Loss of hand or foot coordination
  • Pain that worsens at night

The involvement of the central nervous system will cause other symptoms to develop when a person has Lyme neuropathy, including:

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stiff neck

These symptoms are collectively referred to as Lyme meningitis.

Can Lyme disease neuropathy be cured?

Lyme disease can be effectively treated using antibiotics. Because of this, many symptoms, such as those that affect the nervous system, can be cured. In some cases, however, treating Lyme disease isn’t always that simple. That is especially true if someone waits to receive treatment or doesn’t get diagnosed with Lyme disease soon after they contracted it. The severity of Lyme disease also requires a different treatment approach.

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Is there Lyme neuropathy treatment?

The treatment used for all cases of Lyme disease is antibiotics. Two antibiotics are used to treat Lyme: doxycycline and ceftriaxone. Using these drugs is the only way to rid the body of the bacteria causing the symptoms.

While Lyme neuropathy may seem more severe than other forms, people tend to recover after eradicating the bacteria with antibiotics. The type of antibiotics and the length of time a person must take the drug varies depending on what part of the nervous system is affected. Other factors, such as a person’s age, medical history, and allergies, are also considered.

For someone with facial palsy due to cranial nerve involvement, a 100 mg oral dose of doxycycline must be taken twice daily for two to three weeks. If a person has central or peripheral nervous system involvement, there are two treatment options: 200 mg of doxycycline orally daily or 2 grams of ceftriaxone given intravenously once per day. These antibiotic courses last two to three weeks.

How long does Lyme neuropathy last?

The length of time a person will have to deal with Lyme neuropathy symptoms tends to vary, because it typically develops in people whose condition has gone untreated for long periods. Because of this, it’s hard to determine how long a person will suffer from symptoms.

It is common for people to fully recover from Lyme neuropathy after getting the proper treatment shortly after they have finished their antibiotic course. However, in some people, neuropathy symptoms can linger six months or longer after treatment. There is no way to determine who will experience long-term symptoms and who will recover promptly after treatment.

Lyme neuropathy is not easy to deal with. It can be scary, especially when the symptoms become severe and resemble other chronic diseases. The good news is that many people with Lyme neuropathy recover soon after treatment with the right antibiotics.

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Lyme Disease & Fibromyalgia: An Overview

Lyme disease is a tricky bacterial infection. While it can be treated using antibiotics, many people who contract it go on to develop symptoms long after treatment. This is referred to as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS). This chronic version of Lyme can affect up to 20% of individuals who get the disease. For those who develop PTLDS, chronic symptoms include pain, fatigue, and cognitive impairment.

Many other health disorders present similarly to chronic Lyme disease. The symptoms are often so similar that Lyme disease has earned the nickname “the great imitator.” New research has begun to shed light on how Lyme disease affects the body, with some finding that there may be more of a connection between Lyme disease and other chronic diseases than once thought. One of those diseases is fibromyalgia. But what is fibromyalgia, exactly? And how is it connected to Lyme disease?

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is, first and foremost, a chronic pain disorder. The pain that occurs in people with the condition is generally whole-body or widespread pain. Roughly 2% of the American adult population struggles with fibromyalgia daily.

While research is yet to pin down an exact cause of the condition, how it develops has to do with changes in brain chemicals. When levels of brain chemicals become abnormal, they negatively affect how the central nervous system carries pain signals throughout the body. It’s thought that the pain signaling is askew, causing pain to develop where it shouldn’t.

Even though the cause of fibromyalgia is not yet known, some risk factors are associated with the disease’s development. Age is a risk factor, and other associated conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, are also connected to the onset of fibromyalgia.

Image by Marino Linic on Unsplash: Can Lyme cause fibromyalgia?

Lyme disease vs. fibromyalgia symptoms

The symptoms of fibromyalgia vary, but always include chronic pain. People with the condition may also experience stiffness that affects the entire body; issues with cognitive functions such as memory, thinking, and concentration; and headaches.

Other possible symptoms that people with fibromyalgia can develop include:

  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Sleep issues
  • Feelings of tingling or numbness in the extremities, specifically the hands and feet
  • Disorders of the jaw that present with pain in the face or jaw
  • Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or abdominal pain
  • New onset of irritable bowel syndrome

Since many of these symptoms can develop in several conditions, fibromyalgia can sometimes appear like other diseases, such as Lyme disease. The symptoms that can occur in people with chronic Lyme disease include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive issues that affect memory and thinking
  • Difficulty sleeping or having restless sleep
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Swelling in the joints

Since Lyme disease and fibromyalgia have several overlapping symptoms, this could present an issue when determining between the two. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are connected.

Is there a link between fibromyalgia and Lyme disease?

According to some research, the link between fibromyalgia and Lyme disease may simply be their shared symptoms. It’s thought that Lyme disease may sometimes be incorrectly diagnosed in patients with fibromyalgia, and these patients may be given antibiotics. Because antibiotics do not treat fibromyalgia, they do nothing to help those who have not actually contracted the bacterial infection.

However, other studies have assessed fibromyalgia risk when associated with Lyme disease. The results show that while the two conditions aren’t always related, some people may have fibromyalgia triggered by Lyme disease.

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Are you at a greater risk of fibromyalgia after Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is not considered an official fibromyalgia trigger. However, several studies have been performed in the last three decades that state otherwise. One study done in 2015 monitored patients with confirmed cases of Lyme disease to assess the long-term repercussions of the disease following treatment. The study showed a 1% rate of fibromyalgia following a Lyme disease infection, typically following two or more Lyme infections.

Another study, published in 1992, found a far higher incidence rate of fibromyalgia symptoms in people with treated Lyme disease: 14 out of the 15 patients in the study had persistent fibromyalgia symptoms after being treated for Lyme disease.

More recent research has found that Lyme disease can trigger fibromyalgia in a small number of people. The caveat is that people who develop fibromyalgia after treating Lyme disease do so when there is no active bacteria or infection in their body. Because of that, only a few people with fibromyalgia may have had it triggered by previous infection with Lyme disease.

To sum up: Lyme disease and fibromyalgia definitely have similar symptoms. There’s some evidence to support that Lyme disease can trigger fibromyalgia, but not enough cases have been found to make it an official risk factor.

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What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Tularemia?

The great outdoors is often hailed as medicine. Research has shown that getting out in nature can have a beneficial impact on various aspects of both physical and mental health. In many cases, spending more time in wooded areas and among nature has no downside – but sometimes the critters that live in these kinds of habitats can pose a health risk to humans.

Wooded areas are home to all sorts of wildlife, such as deer, rabbits, and squirrels. While these animals typically shy away from humans and do not directly pose a threat, they also can carry insects such as ticks. Humans need to be wary of ticks because they can severely affect your health if you come into contact with one that harbors an infectious disease. One such tick-borne disease is tularemia. But what is tularemia, and how do you know if you’ve contracted it?

Read on to learn all you need to know about the signs and symptoms of tularemia.

What is tularemia?

Tularemia is a bacterial infection that can be passed on to humans through tick bites. It is also referred to as “rabbit fever” because rabbits and hares are major spreaders of the disease. When a tick latches onto an infected rabbit or hare and drinks its blood, it contracts the bacteria. If that same tick were to latch onto a human, it would transmit the bacteria, causing infection.

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How do you catch tularemia?

While tick bites are one of the biggest causes of tularemia in humans, the bacteria can be transmitted in various ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tularemia can also be transmitted to humans through simple skin contact with infected animals, drinking contaminated water, inhaling aerosols or landscaping dust that contains the bacteria, and being exposed in a lab. Bioterrorism is also a possible way to be exposed to the infection, though it’s incredibly rare.

The ticks most notably responsible for the spread of tularemia are dog ticks, wood ticks, and lone star ticks. In the western area of the United States, deer flies are also on the list of possible spreaders. While skin-to-skin contact with an infected animal can also spread the infection, this method of transmission is most likely to occur in people who hunt or skin animals or other small game. Household pets, such as cats or hamsters, can contract the infection and spread it to humans; however, this is rare.

People can contract the bacteria during landscaping or farming activities if they run over an animal with machinery and release the bacteria into the air. In some rarer cases, people may contract the bacteria by eating an animal that is infected with the bacteria.

How common is tularemia from tick bites?

Even though there are many transmission methods, tularemia is most often spread through tick bites. This is because it’s much more common to encounter a tick while out in wooded areas than any of the other disease-spreading scenarios. While there is little research on the exact number of tularemia cases caused by tick bite, we know it’s the most common way humans contract the infection.

What are the signs and symptoms of tularemia?

The symptoms of tularemia can vary depending on the person. In some cases people will experience no symptoms, while others can have severe illness that causes life-threatening complications. When symptoms do develop, they start the same as the flu and can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Malaise

How a person contracts the infection will also affect how symptoms develop. If a person is bitten by a tick or handles a sick animal and the bacteria enters their body through the skin, they will generally experience the following:

  • Rashes or ulcers on the skin
  • Swollen and/or painful lymph nodes

Other modes of transmission that result in breathing in the bacteria can lead to symptoms that affect the respiratory system, such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Lung abscesses

People who consume the meat of an infected animal may develop a sore throat as well as symptoms that affect the gastrointestinal tract, such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding

Since the infection can affect all organ systems, widespread inflammation can also occur. The brain, spinal cord, eyes, heart, and liver can all become inflamed because of tularemia. In some cases, sepsis and bone infections also occur.

Image by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash: How sick can you get if you have tularemia?

How long does it take to show symptoms of tularemia?

After becoming infected with the bacteria that causes tularemia, people typically develop symptoms within three to five days. That said, the incubation period can last much longer, so it can take up to two weeks before symptoms start to show in some individuals.

How long do tularemia symptoms last?

Symptoms of tularemia tend to stick around until a person seeks treatment. Antibiotics are the drug of choice for tularemia, and after therapy begins, symptoms may disappear in roughly two to three weeks. However, in some cases, people may experience symptoms for a month or more after treatment, and potential permanent skin damage from rashes can occur. 

Tularemia can be a severe and life-threatening disease for some, while others may not be affected at all. To avoid contracting this illness, avoid handling roadkill or other animal carcasses, and do your best to ensure that you are safe from tick bites while in wooded areas.

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Anaplasmosis: Tests, Diagnosis & Treatments

Tick-borne diseases are ramping up in the United States. More and more people are falling ill with these infections for various reasons. One reason is due to the prevalence of higher tick populations as a result of climate change, making the conditions for their survival that much easier. 

While Lyme disease is often the most-talked about tick-borne disease, others can be just as harmful to your health. One of those is anaplasmosis. But what is anaplasmosis, and what is the best treatment? 

What Is Anaplasmosis? 

Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne illness, as previously mentioned, that is transferred to humans through the bites of infected ticks. The ticks most likely to spread anaplasmosis are the black-legged tick and the western black-legged tick. Black-legged ticks are common in areas where ticks are primarily found, such as the Northeastern area of the country and the upper Midwestern states. They thrive in humid and warm conditions that have low-lying vegetation. 

The illness anaplasmosis is caused by a bacteria known as Anaplasma phagocytophilum. These bacteria are gram-negative and can cause disease in animals such as sheep and cattle as well as humans. When it occurs in animals, it is called tick-borne fever or pasture fever. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Anaplasmosis? 

After the initial tick bite, signs and symptoms of anaplasmosis will take anywhere from one to two weeks to appear. Since the tick bite is often painless and people are unaware they’ve been bitten, it can be challenging to determine if the symptoms are caused by a tick-borne illness or something else. 

Other than being unaware of a bite, the reason is that the early illness signs are similar to a moderate or mild cold or flu infection. The first one to five days of the disease will present with symptoms, such as: 

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, vomiting and nausea 
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise 

If a person isn’t aware they have anaplasmosis and their doctor mistakes their symptoms for another type of infection, it will progress to a stage known as late illness. 

The symptoms of late illness can also present as a complication in people with preexisting health conditions. The signs of severe illness caused by an anaplasmosis infection include:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Bleeding problems
  • Organ failure
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death 

Older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for a severe anaplasmosis infection. People that fall into this category include: 

  • Cancer patients
  • People with HIV infections
  • People taking immunosuppressant medications
Image by Winel Sutanto on Unsplash: Is anaplasmosis curable? 

What Are The Tests For Anaplasmosis?

Diagnosing anaplasmosis can be challenging because the early infection has symptoms resembling other conditions. To diagnose anaplasmosis, doctors must perform a combinational approach that includes a history of tick exposure, a collection of current symptoms and lab testing. 

Five possible tests can be used to help doctors reach a definitive diagnosis of anaplasmosis. The tests are: 

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • Serology (indirect immunofluorescence antibody IFA assay)
  • Microscopic examination of a peripheral blood smear
  • Culture or bacterial isolation 
  • Immunohistochemical (IHC) assay 

Doctors tend to lean more toward PCR and microscopy tests in people with acute disease. Serology is often used in those with infections that have lasted a long time or are more severe. Treatment starts during the testing phase because diagnosing the disease can be challenging. The longer a person has it, the more at risk they are for a more severe infection. 

What Is The Differential Diagnosis Of Anaplasmosis? 

There are several differential diagnoses for anaplasmosis because of the symptoms and how it is caused. Some possible differential diagnoses include: 

  • Human monocytotropic ehrlichiosis (HME) 
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever 
  • Relapsing fever
  • Tularemia 
  • Lyme disease
  • Colorado tick fever
  • Babesiosis  

These conditions can cause issues with the diagnosis of anaplasmosis or be confused with anaplasmosis because of similar symptoms. 

Image by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash: What is the best treatment for anaplasmosis?

Is Anaplasmosis The Same As Lyme Disease? 

While anaplasmosis and Lyme disease are caused by a bacterial infection contracted from a tick bite, they are not the same. Different bacteria are to blame for the conditions. Even though some of the symptoms are similar, they do not come with the same long-term complications or effects. 

What Is The First Line Of Treatment For Anaplasmosis? 

Antibiotics are the first choice treatment for anaplasmosis because it is a bacterial infection. One specific antibiotic, doxycycline, is used to treat the condition in adults and children of all ages. This antibiotic is the most effective at preventing severe health complications and has been proven safe in most people. People typically feel better within 24 to 48 hours when taking doxycycline for anaplasmosis.

How Long Is Recovery From Anaplasmosis? 

The time it takes to recover from anaplasmosis varies depending on certain factors, such as how quickly a person sought treatment and how severe their illness is. People can start to feel better within two days. 

People who do not get antibiotics for their infection or take ineffective medication could deal with the illness for as long as 60 days. That is why early treatment is so necessary when a person has anaplasmosis. 

Since anaplasmosis is another tick-borne illness, the best thing you can do to avoid it is avoid getting bitten by ticks. You can do this by wearing bug spray and light-colored and loose-fitting clothing while out in wooded areas, and by checking thoroughly for ticks when you arrive home. 

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