WEDNESDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- A red meat allergy
linked to certain tick bites has affected some Virginia children,
researchers strongly suspect.
From September 2011 to May 2012, 45 children aged 4 to 17
developed itching and had trouble breathing after eating red meat,
the study found. All had been bitten by a tick in the past year. Of
these, more than 45 percent sought care in the emergency room for
their symptoms, and 8 percent were admitted to the hospital.
Previously documented in adults, this phenomenon has been linked
to the Lone Star tick, which commonly is found in the eastern and
southern United States. Cases also are being reported in central
states such as Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri, said study
co-author Dr. Scott Commins, an assistant professor of medicine and
pediatrics at the University of Virginia.
The tick injects spit into the body when it bites, and the body
develops antibodies to a carbohydrate in the tick's spit that is
known as alpha-gal. This carbohydrate is also present in red meat,
so when an infected person eats meat, an allergic reaction is
Unlike other allergic reactions that occur immediately, this
reaction tends to occur within three to six hours after eating red
"The reactions can be ... life-threatening, where an
[epinephrine] pen is needed," Commins said.
The new findings appear in the May print issue of the journal
Because participants entered the study well after their allergic
episodes and the researchers did not see their reactions firsthand,
it was not proven that tick bites leading to meat allergy was the
cause. Blood samples from the children, however, showed they
developed antibodies to alpha-gal.
"Parents should look out for tick bites that remain persistently
reddened and itchy, as well as for allergic symptoms that occur
three to six hours after eating a meal with mammalian meat,"
Commins said. "Symptoms can [include] hives, swelling, diarrhea and
The researchers think the problem is becoming more common,
although there were study participants who said they have had the
allergy for more than 30 years, Commins said.
And the study results "show clearly that physicians should keep
this diagnosis in mind even in the pediatric population, especially
if the history is consistent with the disease syndrome, including
delayed symptoms after ingestion of beef, pork, lamb or even milk,"
the researchers wrote.
No current remedy exists, Commins said, "but the allergy does
seem to fade over time so it is unlikely to be lifelong."
Another expert discussed the study's implications.
"This is an important phenomenon to be aware of when evaluating
children who present with delayed allergic reactions as opposed to
more classic reactions that occur within five to 30 minutes after
exposure to an allergen," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency
medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"Symptoms can include hives, a change in voice or difficulty
swallowing associated with throat swelling after eating a hamburger
or a hot dog."
The message for parents is clear: "If your child get hives or a
rash without any explanation, try to determine what they ate within
the past three to six hours, and if it was beef, lamb or pork, you
should consult an allergist, especially if your family spends a lot
of time outside in areas often inhabited by ticks," Glatter said.
"In children living in areas where the Lone Star tick is common,
the alpha-gal syndrome should be considered a prime suspect."
Dr. Artemio Jongco, an allergist at Cohen Children's Medical
Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., emphasized that a reaction might
require emergency care.
People who develop this allergy may need shots of epinephrine as
well as observation in the emergency room, including treatment with
antihistamines and steroids to control their symptoms, Jongco
"At a minimum, patients who present ... with this history and
constellation of symptoms should be prescribed and instructed on
the use of an epinephrine autoinjector, and warrant a referral for
further evaluation by an allergist," Jongco said. "Moreover,
patients with suspected [allergic reaction] and a history of tick
bites should be evaluated by an allergist for potential alpha-gal
Learn how to avoid ticks at the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.