Alpha-Gal Syndrome (AGS) is a relatively new condition in the allergy world. However, AGS, commonly called the red meat allergy, is increasing in Kentucky. Thousands of Kentuckians may have the red meat allergy but may be unaware.
How Do You Get Alpha-Gal Syndrome?
Alpha-gal is a sugar molecule found in most mammals, according to the CDC. Alpha-gal syndrome is primarily associated with a Lone Star tick bite. Once bitten, a person may develop an allergy to red meat and other foods containing the molecule. These foods include meat (pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, venison, etc.) and products made from mammals (gelatin, cow’s milk, other milk products, etc.). The allergy appears after a person eats red meat or is exposed to other products containing alpha-gal. However, it has not been ruled out if different ticks carry the allergy.
AGS reactions can include:
- Hives or itchy rash
- Nausea or vomiting
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
- Drop in blood pressure
- Swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eyelids
- Dizziness or faintness
- Severe stomach pain
- Symptoms commonly appear 2-6 hours after eating meat or dairy products or exposure to alpha-gal products (for example, gelatin-coated medications).
- AGS reactions can be different from person to person. They can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening. Anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening reaction involving multiple organ systems) may need urgent medical care.
- People may not have an allergic reaction after every alpha-gal exposure.
- If you think you may have AGS, talk to your healthcare provider.
As the instances of tick-borne illness increase in Kentucky and worldwide, it’s essential to take proper safety measures to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. There are over 700 species of ticks worldwide. However, not all ticks transmit disease nor transmit the same diseases.
Common Ticks in Kentucky
Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum)
- These ticks are active from March through September, while larvae are active later in the summer and fall months. They can be found in woodland, forest areas, and open areas with dense vegetation.
- Lone Star ticks can pass the following diseases to hosts: Bourbon Virus, Ehrlichiosis, Heartland Virus, red meat allergy, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), and Tularemia.
American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
- These ticks and nymphs are active from March through September. Humans do not commonly encounter nymphs and larval stages. They can be found along forests and edges of trails, in fields and meadows.
- The American Dog Tick is known to pass on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia to hosts.
Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes scapularis)
- These ticks are active year-round, with adults active October through June and nymphs active May through August. They can be found in woodland and forested areas with dense leaf litter on the ground floor.
- Blacklegged Ticks can pass the following diseases to hosts: Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Lyme disease, Powassan virus, and Relapsing fever.
Winter Tick (Dermacentor albopictus)
- These ticks are active year-round but are not commonly found on humans. They are commonly found in woodland and forested areas.
- Winter Ticks do not pass any diseases of medical concern.
Asian Longhorned Tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis)
- The seasonality of these ticks is still under investigation. In eastern states, it appears they are active from March to September. They are commonly found in woodland areas and fields.
- The Asian Longhorned tick is a possible vector of Theileria orientalis.
Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
- The seasonality of these ticks is still under investigation. In other states, it appears they are active year-round.
- Brown Dog Ticks can pass Canine Babesiosis, Canine Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to hosts.
Gulf Coast Tick (Amblyomma maculatum)
- The seasonality of these ticks is still under investigation. In eastern states, it appears they are active from March to November.
- Golf Coast Ticks can pass parkeri, a form of spotted fever, to hosts.
Protecting Yourself, Others, and Pets
- Avoiding tick bites is the best strategy to reduce the potential of contracting tick-borne diseases. Here are some tips:
- Avoid walking through uncut fields, brush, and other areas likely to harbor ticks. Walk in the center of mowed trails to avoid brushing up against vegetation.
- Use a repellent that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin. Always follow product instructions.
- Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants (especially the cuffs), socks, and tents.
- Tuck long pants into your socks and boots. Wearing light-colored pants makes ticks easier to see.
- In areas with ticks, check yourself, children, and other family members for ticks every 2 to 3 hours and upon returning home from hikes and outdoor activities. Examine behind ears, hair, neck, legs, and around the waist.
- If you let your pets outdoors, check them often for ticks. Ticks can “hitch a ride” on your pets but fall off in your home before they feed. Tick collars, sprays, shampoos, or monthly “top spot” medications help protect against ticks.
According to the Entomology at The University of Kentucky, the best and safest way to remove a tick is by:
- Step 1: Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. The goal is to remove the entire tick, including its head and mouth.
- Step 2: Pull up with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick.
- Step 3: Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine soap, or soap and water.
For more information, visit this Field Guide to Ticks, where you can learn more about common ticks in Kentucky and the United States.
Just remember, after going outside, check for ticks!