Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) is a red meat allergy that develops due to a bite from the Lone Star tick.
This tick is found in the southeastern areas of the United States as well as the Midwest; however, more cases of AGS are starting to show up in northern and western areas of the United States.
Allergies Associated with Alpha-gal Syndrome
People who have been exposed to the alpha-gal sugar molecule through a tick bite may exhibit allergic reactions to red meat or to other products from mammals, such as lard, dairy, gelatin, or the organs of mammals. These reactions can manifest as a rash or hives, nausea and vomiting, difficulty breathing, dizziness, stomach pain, and even anaphylaxis. These symptoms may not show symptoms immediately but may be delayed 3-8 hours after ingestion of the food.
The number of individuals affected by alpha-gal has been increasing. Recent CDC data from July 2023 suggests that up to 450,000 people may have developed AGS since 2010.
For those with AGS, healthcare professionals recommend avoiding ingesting red meat, including products that contain beef, pork, lamb, venison, rabbit, and organ meat. Although less common, some people will also have reactions to other products, such as dairy or gelatin. If this is the case, avoid these foods. Poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and reptile meats do not contain alpha-gal sugar molecules and are safe to consume for people with AGS.
If a person has a reaction to red meat or any of the products mentioned, they may need to see an allergist.
Treatments and Prevention
There is no medical treatment or cure for AGS other than avoiding the foods that will trigger a reaction. There is ongoing research to develop a vaccine, but it is still in the initial stages.
The best way to prevent AGS is to avoid tick bites. Any time you plan on spending time in woods, grassy areas, backyards, forest preserves, or campgrounds, protect yourself against tick bites by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, using bug spray, and checking your clothing, skin, and scalp thoroughly when you return from the outdoors.
The information and content on our website should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment or advice from your doctor.