Tick Bites and Meat Allergies


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Tick Bites and Meat Allergies

August 23, 2017


I have heard recently about beef allergies caused by tick bites. Is this something that can really happen?


Yes. Though allergic sensitivity to meats has been known for quite some time, there is renewed attention to this medical phenomenon.  This is because the connection between certain types of meat allergy and previous tick bites has been found.  The journey of identifying this unusual allergy started with clarifying what was happening in patients who were allergic to a drug called cetuximab. The part of this drug that some patients become allergic to is a carbohydrate related to the drug identified as “Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose” which is commonly shortened to the term “alpha-gal”. It later became clear that this is the carbohydrate entity that is the cause of meat allergy in some patients.


How can a bite from an insect cause an allergy? How is the insect related to meat?


It is not entirely clear exactly how the tick bite can trigger the meat allergy but there are several possible theories that are being explored. What is known, however, is that the bite of the tick somehow triggers some people to develop a sensitivity to alpha-gal.


What types of meat can someone get allergic to?


Though beef has commonly been described in patients with alpha-gal sensitivity, patients with alpha-gal sensitivity typically are sensitive to all mammalian meats (beef, pork, venison, for example). But non-mammalian meats (chicken, turkey, fish, for example) are usually less problematic. For this reason, many describe this syndrome as Mammalian Meat Allergy (MMA).


What kinds of symptoms occurs with MMA?


Typical symptoms of anaphylaxis will include some or all of the following:

=         Hives or skin rash

=         Nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea

=         Stuffy/runny nose, sneezing, Asthma

=         Anaphylactic shock

Some patients with meat allergy will have symptoms immediately. However, many patients with MMA will have symptoms a few hours later.


Are there other foods that I should watch out for if I have MMA?


Other foods that have components from or similar to meat include gelatin, sometimes dairy, and Carrageenan. As more research is done on this subject, additional foods may be identified as problematic.


How do I find out if I have one of these of allergies?


It’s best to see your board-certified specialist in Allergy/Clinical Immunology to determine the correct diagnosis and prognosis. There are many conditions that can mimic MMA and it is important to have a thorough evaluation that is based on evidence-based data. 


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