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.

Featured image by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash


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. 

Featured image by Erik Karits on Unsplash: How do you get anaplasmosis?

pregnant person

Tick-Borne Infections In Pregnancy: Overview & Outcomes

Getting bitten by a tick isn’t always a cause for concern, because not all ticks contain infectious bacteria. However, many do, so if you are bitten, you may be at risk of contracting Lyme disease. Lyme can be debilitating because of the way the bacteria infiltrates the body, hiding out in tissues and causing damage over the long term.

Understandably, when a person is pregnant, they may wonder if getting a tick-borne infection can harm their unborn child. Research has investigated the impact that Lyme disease can have on both the child as well as the person carrying the baby. While the serious repercussions of Lyme disease spreading to the unborn child are rare, there are some things those expecting should be aware of when it comes to tick-borne infections in pregnancy. 

Continue reading “Tick-Borne Infections In Pregnancy: Overview & Outcomes”
person hiking through woods in winter

Do Winter Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

When people think of tick season, they tend to picture warm days spent hiking in the woods. While spring and summer are typically referred to as “tick season,” the truth is that ticks can be active all year round. This is because there are many different types of ticks that thrive in different conditions.

For example: the black-legged tick is mainly thought to be active during the warmer seasons, but can survive in temperatures that are just above freezing. Other types of ticks – mainly the Gulf Cost tick and the Lone Star tick – are also both fairly active in the winter months.

Continue reading “Do Winter Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?”
person hiking in fall

Don’t Let Your Guard Down: Prevalence Of Ticks In Fall

Now that summer is over, many people may be breathing a sigh of relief that tick season is over. But unfortunately, the end of summer does not mean the end of the tick threat – ticks can still live throughout the fall. It’s important not to let your guard down as the season changes, as this may open you up to an increased risk of being bitten by a tick infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

The fall often leads to a drop in temperature, which may give people a false sense of security since ticks thrive in warmer temperatures. However, in many places, fall temperatures aren’t as low as they need to be for tick populations to die down and become a lesser threat to people living or spending time in wooded areas. So how does fall weather affect tick populations, exactly? And why should you continue to practice safety measures even in the cooler weather? Read on for all you need to know about the prevalence of ticks in fall.

Continue reading “Don’t Let Your Guard Down: Prevalence Of Ticks In Fall”