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HEALTH

A lone star tick bite can cause a meat allergy: Here's what to watch out for this summer

USA TODAY
  • Alpha-gal syndrome is a serious and life-threatening allergic reaction that appears in mammals after a tick bite.
  • The lone star tick can transmit alpha-gal syndrome to humans through its saliva.
  • The CDC says that up to 450,000 people might have been affected by the syndrome and not have reported it.

As the calendar turns to warmer months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning about the . Health officials say .

is a serious and life-threatening allergic reaction that appears in mammals after a tick bite. Once a person is bitten, they can have symptoms appear after eating red meat or if they're exposed to other products made from mammals, the CDC said.

The lone star tick can transmit alpha-gal syndrome to humans through its saliva. Typically, the tick can be found in the eastern, southeastern and the south-central parts of the United States. A female tick can be identified by the white spot or "lone star" that is visible on her back, according to the CDC.

A female lone star tick can be identified by the white spot or "lone star" that is visible on her back.

"The overwhelmingly vast majority of cases occur within the range of the lone star tick, which is why most cases of AGS are found in the eastern, southeastern and the south-central parts of the United States, which is the same range at this particular tick species," Dr. Johanna Salzer, veterinarian and disease ecologists at the CDC told USA TODAY in a statement. "In our previous report last July, we found there were a small number of people that (have tested) positive outside this geographic range, but without further investigation of individual cases it is unclear why."

According to data collected by the government agency, between 2010 and 2022 there were more than 110,000 alpha-gal syndrome cases reported within the United States. However, the CDC said that up to 450,000 people might have been affected by the syndrome and not have reported it. In order for the syndrome to be counted in the data set, a positive diagnostic test and a clinical examination must be completed.

“Alpha-gal syndrome is an important emerging public health problem, with potentially severe health impacts that can last a lifetime for some patients,” Ann Carpenter, epidemiologist and lead author of a study released in 2023, said on the CDC’s website. “It’s critical for clinicians to be aware of (alpha-gal syndrome) 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.”

Here’s what you need to know about alpha-gal syndrome.

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CDC report shows the states with the highest alpha-gal syndrome cases

According to data compiled by the CDC, the following states had the . USA TODAY reached out to the CDC and learned that this is the most updated data set for the alpha-gal syndrome cases.

  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland,
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia

Foods that can cause an alpha-gal allergic reaction after a lone star tick bite 

The Mayo Clinic outlines several food options that can cause an alpha-gal allergic reaction:

  • Red meat
    • Beef
    • Pork
    • Lamb
  • Organ meats
  • Products made from mammals
    • Gelatins
    • Dairy products

What happens if I get bit by a lone star tick?

A person who is bit by a lone star tick can experience alpha-gal syndrome symptoms which can include the following:

  • Hives or itching.
  • Itchy or scaly skin.
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other body parts.
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath.
  • Stomach pain, diarrhea, upset stomach or vomiting.

The Mayo Clinic advises you to get emergency medical treatment if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Rapid or a weak pulse.
  • Dizzy or lightheaded feeling.
  • Drooling and not being able to swallow.
  • Full-body redness and warmth, called flushing.

Ways to prevent alpha-gal syndrome

The following can help avoid a possible bite by the lone star tick, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Cover up
  • Use bug spray
  • Tick-proof your yard
  • Check yourself and your kids
  • Shower ASAP
  • Remove ticks quickly
According to the Mayo Clinic, the best way to prevent alpha-gal syndrome is to avoid places where ticks live. But, if that is not possible, it suggests to do the following.

Ahjané Forbes is a reporter on the National Trending Team at USA TODAY. Ahjané covers breaking news, car recalls, crime, health, lottery and public policy stories. Email her at aforbes@gannett.com. Follow her on ,Ի.

Julia is a trending reporter for USA TODAY. She has covered various topics, from local businesses and government in her hometown, Miami, to tech and pop culture. You can connect with her on  or follow her on ,Ի: @juliamariegz

The Key Points at the top of this article were created with the assistance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and reviewed by a journalist before publication. No other parts of the article were generated using AI. .