RHODE ISLAND — The number of people in Rhode Island who may be living with one meat allergy triggered by tick bites is likely larger than official numbers suggest, according to a pair of studies released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That first investigation estimated that as many as 110,000 Americans developed an allergy to red meat between 2010-2022 due to alpha-gal syndrome, or AGS. But the CDC says the true number of Americans who have developed the allergy may be closer to 450,000.
That would make it the 10th most common food allergy in the country, Dr. Scott Commins, a researcher at the University of North Carolina who co-authored both papers, told the Associated Press.
The number of people who tested positive for alpha-gal antibodies increased from about 13,000 in 2017 to 19,000 in 2022, according to one of the studies. In total, more than 90,000 suspected cases were identified during the study period. At that time Rhode Island had all Ocean State counties people who test positive for the antibodies according to CDC data.
Researchers discovered in 2011 that the alpha-gal sugar could be spread through tick bites and bind to lonely star eggwhich is common in the eastern and southern United States, including Rhode Island.
The increases are partly due to expanded selection of lone star ticksbut also because the doctors test more for the antibody.
But many are not. In a survey of 1,500 healthcare professionals last year, 78 percent said they had little or no knowledge about the syndrome, and only 5 percent said they felt very confident they could diagnose it.
Dr. Ann Carpenter, an epidemiologist and lead author of one of the papers, called alpha-gel syndrome “an important emerging health problem with potentially serious health implications that may last for life in some patients.”
“It is 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,” Carpenter said in a news release that announces. surveys.
Health officials said they are not aware of any confirmed deaths related to the allergy.
The AGS reaction occurs when an infected person eats beef, pork, venison or other meat from mammals – or consumes milk, gelatin or other mammal products. It is not caused by a germ, but by a sugar, alpha-gal, that is in the flesh of mammals – and in tick saliva. When the sugar enters the body through the skin, it triggers an immune response and can lead to a severe allergic reaction.
People who have been infected usually notice symptoms within two to six hours of eating food or consuming other products containing alpha-gal, including gelatin-coated medications.
Symptoms include hives or an 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 eyelids; dizziness or fainting; or severe abdominal pain.
CDC officials urged anyone who thinks they may be infected to see a doctor or allergist and also stressed the importance of prevention of tick bites.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
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