KNOXVILLE (WATE)– As a middle school student in Tennessee Rachael Atkins was in and out of the emergency room once a month.
Ten years after the symptoms developed, doctors diagnosed Atkins with alpha-gal, which is an allergy to red meat. The allergy is triggered by the bite of a lone star tick that can start a chain of reactions in some people.
“It took about four years for my doctors to diagnose it,” said Atkins. “Over that time the reactions progressed from moderate to severe hives all the way to severe anaphylaxis.”
Dr. Mark Rasnake with UT Medical Center said the allergy isn’t caused by a disease the tick carries, but a protein in the tick’s saliva. He says there are several side effects to the allergy but they vary from person to person.
“It’s almost like a vaccine gone wrong, where instead of developing an immune response that protects you, in response to that protein, you develop you develop an immune response that can harm you if you’re exposed to similar proteins in the future,” said Dr. Mark Rasnake with UT Medical Center. “A lot of times people will get nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a rash, maybe feeling flushed, having fevers after a red meat meal.”
Atkins is now a vet school student at the University of Tennessee and visiting the emergency room less often. She says she is learning to live with here severe allergy to red meat.
“It was hard at the beginning to learn how to avoid red meats,” said Atkins. “There was some cross contamination issues like with a pizza cutter at restaurant. If they cut a piece of pepperoni and then my cheese we would have some issues.
Dr. Rasnake says he has not seen any of these allergies himself but they have been reported in the region. He says the findings on the allergy are recent and there is still more to learn.