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CDC: Tick-borne illness alpha-gal syndrome may be causing more meat allergies than previously thought

Study: Many doctors don't know much about tick-borne alpha-gal syndrome
Study: Many doctors don't know much about tick-borne alpha-gal syndrome 02:06

NEW YORK - The CDC said more Americans than originally thought may be allergic to red meat because of tick bites, and now they're on high alert after a study found that many doctors don't know much about the condition or how to diagnose it.

CBS New York's Alice Gainer spoke with one of the co-authors of that study, who noted there's a hot spot here in New York with quite a few cases.

Doctors say alpha-gal syndrome, or AGS, develops after a tick bite, primarily a lone star tick.

"A couple weeks to a couple months later, they develop an allergy against red meat and any products or byproducts of red meat," CDC epidemiologist Dr. Johanna Salzer said.

That could include gelatin, cow's milk, milk products and some pharmaceuticals.

Symptoms are wide-ranging and can appear two to six hours after eating these foods or products, and can include hives or rash, nausea or vomiting, and swelling of the lips, throat, tongue or eyelids.

More and more people are being diagnosed with it. CBS New York first reported on alpha-gal syndrome back in May. We introduced you to a New Jersey man who was bitten by a tick, and the same thing happened to him. It took months for doctors to figure out what was wrong. 

A new report out by the CDC found that between 2010 and 2022, there were more than 110,000 suspected cases of alpha-gal syndrome identified, but it's estimated that 450,000 people may be affected and not even know.

"We did a survey of 1,500 healthcare providers all across the country and approximately half had never heard of alpha-gal syndrome," Salzer said.

Salzer co-authored the study and adds about a third said they weren't confident in their ability to diagnose it.

It involves two tests -- a clinical exam and a blood test.

"There is a specific blood test that looks for antibodies to alpha-gal, which is a sugar," Salzer said.

She notes Suffolk County is a hotspot, but that could also be because health care providers there are educated about diagnosing it.

Salzer is hoping the word spreads before more alpha-gal does.

"This is not treatable with antibiotics. This is something that a lot of patients do have to live with for the rest of their lives," she said.

It seems to be because of the lone star tick, but doctors say other ticks haven't been ruled out yet.

Preventing tick bites is your best bet; use EPA-registered insect repellants and perform tick checks after being outdoors.

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