How Chiggers Are Spreading Meat Allergies

Over the last decade, a major mystery in the rise of red meat allergies has been partially solved, as scientists have discovered that being bitten by the Lone Star tick – which tends to be found in the southeastern United States – increases the risk of developing allergies to red meat. By increasing sensitivity to alpha-gal, which is a type of sugar molecule, ticks can make their victims become allergic to red meat that contains this type of sugar.

New evidence has now emerged that chigger bites may also lead to red meat allergies by lowering people’s tolerance to alpha-gal. The findings have been published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

The clue that chiggers may be helping to spread red meat allergies emerged from case reports from the University of Virginia and Wake Forest Baptist that described patients who had recently developed an allergy to red meat had not been exposed to ticks, but had recently experienced chigger bites. Researchers at UVA found that of 301 red meat allergy patients surveyed, 5.5 percent had experienced chigger bites over the previous decade but had not had any exposure to ticks.

To confirm whether chiggers are truly spreading red meat allergies, scientists will begin investigating whether chiggers have traces of alpha-gal in their saliva.

Chiggers are tiny red larvae that come from arachnid mites in the Trombiculidae family. These larvae eventually evolve into arachnids with eight legs. Being only about 1/150th of an inch in size, they are not easy to identify with the eye. However, once someone has been bitten by chiggers, they tend to experience intense itching. The subsequent scratching undertaken to relieve itching can lead to secondary infections.

While the itching they cause may lead people to assume that chiggers are similar to mosquitoes, they are actually more closely related to ticks. Like the Lone Star tick, chiggers can be found in the southeastern part of the United States, but they are more widespread than the Lone Star tick – also prevalent in the Midwest and found in northern states, through New York.

Red meat allergies can range from mild symptoms including hives to life-threatening reactions that involve anaphylaxis. Unlike many allergies that occur immediately after exposure to the allergen, the alpha-gal allergy often involves a delayed reaction that occurs between three and 12 hours after exposure.

There is no cure for this allergy, and the only way to prevent it is to avoid mammalian meat products. Future research into the specific causes of red meat allergy may help in the development of an effective treatment for this allergy.

Author
Dr. Summit Shah

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