Meat lovers living in the central and southern regions of the country might be opting for a vegetarian lifestyle if meat comes with an unwanted side of a life-threatening allergic reaction. The Texas tick inhabiting these regions is the primary reason for a dangerous allergic reaction to a substance called "alpha gal" in meat.

"Alpha-gal" is a sugar carbohydrate found in red meats such as beef, pork and lamb. Positive alpha-gal rates are 32% higher in lone star tick population areas as compared to other regions. The central and southern regions of the United States have the highest rates of alpha-gal sensitization.

Allergist Stanley Fineman says, "Blood levels of antibodies for alpha-gal in the human body can rise after a single bite from the lone-star tick. This can result in allergic symptoms which are usually delayed after meat ingestion and may present as mild hives but may also be a severe, potentially deadly reaction known as anaphylaxis," which starts rapidly and may cause death.

But before steak-lovers stream out of that state, they should know that the study also found positive rates higher than expected in the north-central and west regions of the country, where the lone star tick is not found.

Fineman says, "These findings suggest that other species of ticks, or possibly human factors, may play a role in allergic reactions to alpha-gal. Patients with delayed allergic reactions after eating meats should see an allergist to determine if it is an alpha-gal allergy. The best treatment is strict avoidance of meat. An allergist may also prescribe epinephrine in the event of a life threatening emergency.”

Symptoms range from mild to severe and may include: hives or skin rash, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, headaches and asthma–in other words, many symptoms of the flu.

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