What is alpha-gal?
- Alpha-gal (galactose-α-1,3-galactose) is a sugar molecule found in most mammals.
- Alpha-gal is not found in fish, reptiles, birds, or people.
- Alpha-gal can be found in meat (pork, beef, rabbit, lamb, venison, etc.) and products made from mammals (including gelatin, cow’s milk, and milk products).
What is alpha-gal syndrome (AGS)?
Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) (also called alpha-gal allergy, red meat allergy, or tick bite meat allergy) is a serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. AGS is not caused by an infection. AGS symptoms occur after people eat red meat or are exposed to other products containing alpha-gal.
What are the symptoms of AGS?
AGS reactions can include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
- Drop in blood pressure
- Swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eye lids
- Dizziness or faintness
- Severe stomach pain
- Symptoms commonly appear 2-6 hours after eating meat or dairy products, or after exposure to products containing alpha-gal (for example, gelatin-coated medications).
- AGS reactions can be different from person-to-person. They can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening. Anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening reaction involving multiple organ systems) may need urgent medical care.
- People may not have an allergic reaction after every alpha-gal exposure.
- If you think you may have AGS go talk to your healthcare provider.
AGS can be severe, and even life-threatening. Seek immediate emergency care if you are having a severe allergic reaction.
Can I get AGS from a tick bite?
- Growing evidence suggests that AGS may be triggered by the bite of a lone star or blacklegged tick in the United States. Other tick species have been connected with the development of AGS in other countries.
- More research is needed to understand the role ticks play in starting this reaction, and why certain people develop AGS.
How do I know if I have AGS?
- AGS is diagnosed by an allergist or other healthcare provider through a detailed patient history, physical examination, and a blood test that looks for specific antibodies (proteins made by your immune system) to alpha-gal.
- Your healthcare provider may also recommend allergy skin testing.
What should I do if I have AGS?
- AGS should be treated and managed under the care of an allergist or other healthcare provider.
- Many foods and products contain alpha-gal; you will need to work with your healthcare provider to understand which products you need to avoid.
- Prevent tick bites. New tick bites may reactivate allergic reactions to alpha-gal.
I have AGS, what foods and products do I need to avoid?
- Not all patients with AGS have reactions to every ingredient containing alpha-gal.
- Most healthcare providers recommend patients with AGS stop eating mammalian meat (such as beef, pork, lamb, venison, rabbit, etc).
- Depending on your sensitivity and the severity of your allergic reaction, your healthcare provider may also suggest you avoid other foods and ingredients which may contain alpha-gal (such as cow’s milk, milk-products, and gelatin).
- Read food product labelsexternal icon carefully.
- Although very rare, some people with severe AGS may react to ingredients in certain vaccines or medications. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking a new medication or receiving a vaccine.
Who gets AGS?
Anyone could get AGS.
- Most reported cases of AGS in the United States are among people living in the South, East, and Central United States.
- While people in all age groups can develop AGS, most cases have been reported in adults.
What can I do to prevent AGS?
Preventing tick bites is important in preventing tickborne disease and may reduce your chances of developing AGS.
- Before you go outdoors
- Avoid grassy, brushy, and wooded areas, where ticks may be found.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy pre-treated items.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellentsexternal icon.
- After you come indoors
- Check your clothing for ticks.
- Shower and perform a thorough tick check.
- If you see an attached tick, remove it immediately.
- Take steps to prevent ticks on your pets and in your yard.