ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that many US healthcare providers are unfamiliar with the red-meat allergy or the tick bite meat allergy called alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), an emerging and potentially life-threatening allergic condition.

Between 2010 and 2022, CDC said, there were more than 110,000 suspected cases of alpha-gal syndrome identified. However, because the diagnosis of alpha-gal syndrome requires a positive diagnostic test and a clinical exam, and some individuals with alpha-gal syndrome may not get tested, an estimated 450,000 people might have been affected by AGS in the United States, according to reports issued by the CDC in the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.”

Alpha-gal is a sugar found in animal proteins such as pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, venison, etc., and products made from animals including gelatin, cow’s milk, milk products and some pharmaceuticals, according to the CDC. Some people experience AGS after they consume food or products containing alpha-gal. Growing evidence suggests that AGS is primarily associated with the bite of a lone star tick in the United States, but other kinds of ticks have not been ruled out, CDC said. Communities in the southern, midwestern, and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States identified more people who tested positive.

“Alpha-gal syndrome is an important emerging public health problem, with potentially severe health impacts that can last a lifetime for some patients,” said Ann Carpenter, DVM, epidemiologist and lead author of one of the reports. “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.”

Symptoms 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 CDC. Symptoms commonly appear two to six hours after eating food or other exposure to products containing alpha-gal.

AGS reactions can be different from person-to-person, and some people may not have an allergic reaction after every alpha-gal exposure, CDC said.

“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 Johanna Salzer, DVM, senior author on both papers released today. “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.”