The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is warning that alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) is widely undiagnosed, with one study finding nearly half of healthcare providers weren’t familiar with the tick-bite driven allergic reaction to meat and meat byproducts.
While 110,000 suspected cases were reported between 2010 and 2022, the CDC says the actual number may be as high as 450,000 because diagnosis requires a clinical exam and diagnostic test and many healthcare providers aren’t familiar with the condition.
It cites a study of 1,500 family/general practitioners, internists, pediatricians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants that found nearly half had not heard of AGS; a third were “not too confident” that they could diagnose or manage it, with only 5 percent confident in their ability to do so.
Even of those aware of AGS, nearly half said they didn’t know the correct test to order or correctly answered all three questions related to etiology, testing, and patient counseling.
“It’s critical for clinicians to be aware of AGS so they can properly evaluate, diagnose, and manage their patients and also educate them on tick-bite prevention to protect patients from developing this allergic condition,” said Dr. Ann Carpenter, epidemiologist and lead author of the paper.
Evidence indicates AGS comes from the bite of the lone star tick, although other ticks have not been ruled out as a possible source. It is found more often in the South, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions.
Alpha-gal is a sugar found in mammal meat, including beef, pork, lamb and venison, and products from mammals, including milk and gelatin. Symptoms, which typically occur two to six hours after eating food containing alpha-gal, are wide ranging and can include hives or itchy rash; nausea or vomiting; heartburn or indigestion; diarrhea; cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; drop in blood pressure; swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eye lids; dizziness or faintness; or severe stomach pain, according to the CDC.
“The burden of alpha-gal syndrome in the United States could be substantial given the large percentage of cases suspected to be going undiagnosed due to non-specific and inconsistent symptoms, challenges seeking healthcare, and lack of clinician awareness,” said Dr. Johanna Salzer, another of the paper’s authors. “It’s important that people who think they may suffer from AGS see their healthcare provider or an allergist, provide a detailed history of symptoms, get a physical examination, and a blood test that looks for specific antibodies (proteins made by your immune system) to alpha-gal.”
AGS isn’t the only tick borne illness. Learn more about Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever here.
The contents of this feature are not provided or reviewed by NPWH.