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Show 1167: Will a Tick Bite Make You Allergic to Meat?

Many people have had a tick bite and are now allergic to red meat. The culprit is the lone star tick that triggers an alpha-gal allergy. How does that work?
Show 1167: Will a Tick Bite Make You Allergic to Meat?
At the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Monday, February 29, 2016 in Chapel Hill. Photo by Chris Polydoroff.
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Will a Tick Bite Make You Allergic to Meat?

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For some years, emergency doctors and allergists were puzzled by people who started having extremely serious allergic reactions in the middle of the night, a long time after they had eaten or drunk anything or had any contact with obvious allergens. Smart sleuthing from our guest and his colleagues determined that a tick bite can set a person up for an unusual hours-delayed allergic reaction to eating beef, pork, lamb or any other type of mammalian meat. We call this type of reaction after the bite of a lone star tick an alpha-gal allergy. People with this condition have to avoid red meat. Some of those who suffer from it say that they can’t even drink milk or eat cheese.

What Is the Story on Tick Bite and Alpha-Gal Allergy?

Dr. Scott Commins was part of the original research team that identified this problem. He can explain exactly what is going on and why people may react in such varied ways to an alpha-gal allergy. If you have experienced alpha-gal and you have questions about it, Dr. Commins can answer them.

How can you avoid tick bites? When you go out in the woods, or even across a lawn with tall grass, wear long pants with your socks pulled up over the cuffs. Even better, add tick-repelling gaiters. It is very important to take off your clothes and inspect yourself carefully when you come in from outside. Don’t miss the spots where ticks like to hide, such as the groin or the armpits.

Other Summertime Allergies:

Have you ever had an allergic reaction to an insect sting? What should you do about it? Ask Dr. Commins for advice on this common summertime hazard.

We will also discuss a few of the other concerns that may arise around a tick bite. In addition, we’ll consider food allergies in adults and kids. The alpha-gal picture for people who are allergic to meat is unusual partly because of the delay. Most food allergies strike quickly. How should you respond? Is there a way to be prepared for an allergic reaction?

Do You Have a Question?

Call in your questions about alpha-gal and other allergies: 888-472-3366 between 7 and 8 am EDT on Saturday, June 1, 2019. Or send us email: radio@peoplespharmacy.com

This Week’s Guest:

Scott P. Commins, MD, PhD, is Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chris Polydoroff took the photograph of Dr. Commins.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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