Tiny bug bites that could change your life

·3 min read

One day you’re able to enjoy steak, hamburgers, and sausage and the next day these foods cause severe allergic reaction.

Tom Regan with our sister station, WSB-TV in Atlanta, talked to people who suffer from this life-changing condition caused by a tick bite.

Summer is a popular time for grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. But its also the height of the tick season. People who suffer from a condition called Alpha-Gal say eating red meat makes them break out in hives.

Rob Attaway, who is an Alpha-Gal patient said, “I was fully covered in these hives head to toe.”

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Attaway first broke out in hives twelve years ago. He said the itching lasted for hours and was unbearable.

“Literally, you could sometimes not even hardly think because you’re itching,” Attaway said.

He suffered for nine years before finally getting answers from an allergist. “Found the problem – stop eating red meat and I stopped eating red meat and within three days of that, everything started to clear up,” Attaway said.

He tested positive for Alpha-Gal Syndrome, which is a delayed allergic reaction to red meat. It’s caused by a bit from the Lone Star Tick, which is the most common tick in Georgia. It’s also a common tick found in the state of Ohio, along with the American Dog Tick.

Attaway enjoys playing disc golf and hiking and believes that’s how he got the tick bite.

Jim Dickerson, who is also an Alpha-Gal patient said, “My face went numb completely. And I went in and looked in the mirror and I was so contorted. I thought I was having a stroke.”

Dickerson said he thinks a Lone Star Tick bit him while vacationing in Florida in October. He first realized something was wrong after passing out while using a leaf blower in his yard.

“Worst pain I’ve ever experienced,” Dickerson said.

He said his blood pressure dropped severely from the Alpha-Gal, causing him to fall and break his back.

“It’s amazing how your life can change from one little, one little bite,” Dickerson said.

Attaway and Dickerson can no longer eat their favorite foods.

“I love the pork barbeque ribs,” Dickerson said. “Hot dogs,” Attaway said.

Both men said they now eat a lot of chicken. Turkey, fish, and plant-based meal alternatives also safe foods.

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Even with avoiding red meat, eating at restaurants or a friend’s house can be dangerous. It can be hiding in side dishes.

“One of the dishes that I ate was probably cooked and seasoned with maybe a ham hock or piece of pork or piece of beef,” Dickerson said.

It’s also found in some medications. Attaway said, “Then, I found out I got worse taking Claritin and I stopped using that.”

Dr. Ted Lee with the Peachtree Allergy and Asthma Clinic has seen more than 100 Alpha-Gal patients over the past 37 years. He said it’s spread to people by a tick that has fed on a mammal like a deer or cow.

“It brings those chemicals and those antigens from that mammal into the human when it feeds on them, and then it causes an aberrant immune response,” Lee said.

There is no cure for Alpha-Gal so preventing tick bites is key, Lee said. “If you’re outside you’re subject to ticks.”

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Dickerson said, “But you need to be careful – use sprays, whatever, to avoid really staying in the woods.”

After spending time outside, do a body inspection for ticks. These simple steps can help you avoid this life-changing condition.

Both men said they have not had any major outbreaks since their diagnosis. Both carry an epi pen just in case they accidentally each any meat.

It could cause their throats to close and cut off their oxygen supply.