The People's Perspective on Medicine

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?
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:

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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I was diagnosed with the alph-gal allergy a year ago. I noticed the symptoms after eating beef and eventually had the blood test that was positive. However, before I had the diagnosis confirmed, I noticed that on one occasion I had saved a portion of the steak I had eaten and placed it in the freezer, and when I ate it later I had no reaction. Also, I can eat bacon and pepperoni with no reaction. I never saw a tick on my skin, BUT I did have a severe case of “chiggers” before I started to have reactions to beef.

Audrey, Charlottesville, Va. – 4 years ago after removing 10 ticks during summer months while working in our yard, I had my first reaction with rash and hives after eating beef while on vacation. After doing some research, I suspected the alpha-gal allergy, and went to an allergist here. My blood allergy levels confirmed my suspicions, and for 2 years did not eat any meat from 4-legged animals and was tested again, and my levels were down. My allergist, Dr. Gary Rakes then had me come in for the day with two hamburgers, which I ate one in the morning and another at lunch, I was monitored all day at his office for any reaction, having none, he cleared me to resume eating meat. I have carried an Epipen for years due to wasp allergy, but did not need it for the alpha-gal, as my reaction never progressed past rash and hives. For two years I was fine eating meat until this year when I had 3 ticks bites and had a reaction to pork, was tested again, and my levels are back up, but not as high as before, so I am off meat until I am checked again in 3 months. Hopefully my levels will go back down as before so I might be cleared to eat meat again.

The elephant in the living room is that EMS personnel, as well as family practitioners need to be advised about Alpha-Gal so no one struggles for years, like I did. I did not know why I was having continuous unpleasant reactions including two trips to the ER with NO MEANINGFUL HELP from those who we have been taught to believe are the experts. How do the medical community learn about this? And pharmacies? And even restaurants whose clients may think they have been food poisoned? Thank you?

I was diagnosed with Alpha Gal 6 mos ago. My internal medicine and allergist hardly know anything about this. I feel much better now that I am avoiding beef, pork, and lamb. Using soy milk and trying to avoid dairy. But my stomach still stays upset and cramps a lot of the time. What do you recommend I can do to help feel better?

Thanks for this show — a lot of my questions were answered, but still am confused about my own experience with Alpha-gal.
About a year ago, I learned that I test positive for Alpha gal after having some allergy tests for another problem. I never experienced the typical Alpha gal reactions—no hives or severe midnight vomiting. Despite the lack of symptoms, I had a high score of allergens requiring me to carry an epi-pen at all times.

I am baffled by this. Could the daily dose of Allegra that I’ve been taking for seasonal allergies for years have prevented me from having typical reactions to Alpha-gal? Has anyone else had a similar experience?

Another tip that I have read about and used is to take a lint-removal roller (the ones with sticky tape) to your clothes when you come in from outside. This will help find any ticks that may come inside on your clothes.

Thank you for spotlighting this article again. It was a radio show you had done on Alpha Gal that tipped me off to what might be wrong when my symptoms began following a bad tick bite. That was 3 years ago. Thanks to keeping this in the public eye, others can be tested and receive medical care without going through weeks or months of reactions not knowing the mammal consumed is the trigger. You always provide great information to help us get and stay healthy.

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