(WSET) — The meat allergy called alpha-gal syndrome is on the rise, and in Virginia, health officials say it's exploding.
The CDC said it's an emerging public health concern.
An Alpha-Gal allergy can be life-threatening, just like any other food allergy. Those diagnosed with the syndrome have to avoid eating anything with the alpha-gal sugar molecule in it, which is found in meat from hooved animals, and in some cases, dairy and some medications could cause a reaction.
Like other allergies, the reactions can be serious and potentially life-threatening, Julia Murphy, a state public health veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Health said the allergy is linked to tick bites, specifically from lone star ticks.
"We do have a lot of lone star ticks here in Virginia, so we think that's driving a lot of what we are seeing in Virginia when it comes to Alpha-Gal and people testing positive for Alpha-Gal," she said.
The CDC said some of the symptoms of Alpha-Gal syndrome are hives, nausea, swelling, and other allergy-type reactions.
The reaction would come two to six hours after you eat something containing alpha-gal.
She said the best way to avoid getting the syndrome is to avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place. She recommends wearing light colors when you're outdoors so you can easily spot ticks, use the correct sprays, and check yourself when you get back inside.
"Once you have Alpha-Gal, your future is somewhat uncertain in regards to the kind restrictions you might have and what you can eat and what other things you can take in orally such as medications and such," Murphy said.
One of those problems comes from eating anything with the alpha-gal sugar molecule in it, for example, red meat. Murphy said because the syndrome is so new, it's still somewhat unclear of how long it takes before the symptoms show and she said researchers are also unsure of how to get rid of the syndrome. However, she said if you have the syndrome avoid anything with Alpha-Gal, including getting bitten again, so you have the best chance of it going away.
If you've been bitten by a tick recently and you're now having delayed allergic reactions after eating, Murphy says you should contact your doctor and tell them what you've experienced.
Head to our ABC13 YouTube page for more on Alpha-Gal syndrome.