Health

Potentially life-threatening health risks rise in Virginia as Department of Health and CDC issue warning

A public health concern with potentially deadly consequences is growing in Virginia, health officials say, as people test positive for Alpha Gal Syndrome.

Alpha Gal Syndrome (AGS) is a little-known meat allergy transmitted by tick bites that can be life-threatening. It primarily causes hives, angioedema, stomach upset, diarrhea, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, headache and a drop in blood pressure, but can even cause death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which issued a warning about it syndrome last month.

According to Julia Murphy, a state public health veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), it is known to be spread through tick bites, particularly the lone star tick, which is widespread in Virginia.

“We have a lot of single star ticks here in Virginia, so we think that's why what we're seeing in Virginia when it comes to alpha gal and people who tested positive for alpha gal,” she said, according to WSET.

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A tick on a leaf

Bites from young lone star ticks have been linked to alpha gal syndrome, which causes a rare allergy to an ingredient in red meat. (Image Point FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP //Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Unlike other tick-borne diseases that require the tick to adhere to a human for hours, AGS is transmitted through the tick's saliva.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, a tick carries a sugar molecule called alpha-gal in its saliva and injects it into a person's body through a bite.

“The tick's saliva triggers an immune response from the human body to develop antibodies to fight the foreign substance. However, the immune system now has a hard time determining whether or not the alpha-gal carbohydrate floating around in your blood came from it.” E.g. from the tick or from the burger you just ate, potentially leading to an allergic reaction leads,” said the VDH.

A living specimen of the Lone Star Tick

According to the Virginia Department of Health, a tick carries a sugar molecule called alpha-gal in its saliva and injects it into a person's body through a bite. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Those who contract the allergy—perhaps during a summer or fall vacation, as ticks become more active in warmer weather—need to avoid eating foods that contain the sugar molecule alpha-gal, as it causes allergies to certain high-fat meats (mainly ). pork, beef, rabbit, lamb or venison) or products derived from mammals (including protein powder, dairy and gelatin).

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Certain medications, including the cancer drug cetuximab, can also cause an allergic reaction.

A close-up photo of the tick's back

Ticks become more active in warmer weather. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Symptoms can appear about four to eight hours after eating red meat.

“Once you have Alpha-Gal, your future is a bit uncertain in terms of the kinds of limitations you might have and what you eat and what other things you can take orally, like medications and things like that,” Murphy said.

Because of its association with tick bites and red meat, AGS is also known as “red meat allergy” or “tick bite allergy.”

The CDC said in July that AGS is an emerging public health concern because, like other food allergies, alpha-gal allergy can be life-threatening.

glove, tick

Because of its association with tick bites and red meat, AGS is also known as “red meat allergy” or “tick bite allergy.” (Image Point FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP //Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

According to Murphy, the best way to avoid the syndrome is to avoid being bitten by a tick in the first place. She recommends wearing bright colors when outdoors to make ticks easy to spot, using the right sprays, and checking yourself when you get back indoors.

Ticks in a jar

The CDC has only been aware of Alpha Gal Syndrome since 2008. There is currently no treatment or cure. (Ben McCanna/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

The CDC has only been aware of Alpha Gal Syndrome since 2008. There is currently no treatment or cure.

Henrico County health officials are urging people to remain extra vigilant during the warmer months and avoid wooded and bushy areas with tall grass. People should also use repellents containing 20 to 30% DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin and clothing for protection, or use other products containing permethrin on clothing, they said.

Fox News' Melissa Rudy contributed to this report.

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