Meat allergy: Violent immune reaction when eating meat after tick bites

Meat allergy: Violent immune reaction when eating meat after tick bites

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New test recognizes a meat allergy more clearly

The bite of a juicy steak - for many people the epitome of a delicious meal, for some, however, meat consumption can become a health horror trip. The so-called alpha-gal syndrome describes an allergic reaction that occurs two to six hours after eating red meat. Not much is currently known about the causes of this puzzling allergy. However, researchers report that the meat allergy mainly develops after severe inflammatory reactions due to a tick bite. A German-Luxembourg research team recently developed a test that can be used to diagnose alpha-gal syndrome.

Those who suffer from alpha-gal syndrome develop violent allergic reactions after eating red meat such as beef, pork, lamb or game meat, which can range from reddening of the skin to shortness of breath and allergic cardiovascular shock. Since the symptoms do not appear until two to six hours after eating, it is difficult to relate the ailments to meat consumption. Researchers at the Luxembourg Institute of Health have now developed a test that can better identify this rare allergy. The study results were recently presented in the "Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology".

Meat allergy has only been known for a few years

The existence of meat allergy was first proven in 2009 by US scientists. Even then, the researchers suspected that alpha-gal syndrome developed primarily as a result of tick bites. According to the researchers, the immediate triggers for this food allergy are special sugar substances that are found on the surface of mammalian cells. These sugars are called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose or in short: alpha-gal. Human cells do not have these alpha-gal sugars.

Animal sugar triggers the allergic reactions

According to the research team, these animal sugars can cause allergic reactions in some people if they get into the blood as a result of a meat meal. So far, this food intolerance could only be demonstrated by subjecting those affected to an elaborate and dangerous oral provocation test: "Under medical supervision, those affected ate meat in increasing quantities until an allergic reaction occurred," reports project manager Dr. Christiane Hilger. Because of the time delay, the test is very complex and not without risks.

Blood test replaces dangerous provocation test

The German-Luxembourg research team has now succeeded in largely replacing this provocation test with a blood test. In the new blood test, the blood of those affected is stimulated with artificial allergens. "A strong reaction of the basophils (white blood cells) to the smallest amount of allergen is a clear indication of alpha-gal syndrome," the researchers write in a press release on the study results.

Does tick saliva trigger the rare meat allergy?

"We still know very little about the causes and the immunological basis of alpha-gal syndrome," summarizes Hilger. So far it has been observed that people in particular develop a meat allergy who previously had a strong inflammatory reaction to a tick bite. Further research will now clarify which substances in ticks' saliva trigger this reaction and what exactly happens in the immune system.

Basophils for the diagnosis of allergies

Through the study, the research team also showed that the behavior of the basophils in the blood can be used to determine allergies. The team refers to further studies that have shown that these cells are interesting for further allergological diagnostics because they also react strongly to other allergenic substances. (vb)

Author and source information

Video: Meat Allergy from Tick Bite with Erin McGintee, MD (August 2022).