Summertime and burgers on the grill go hand in hand–unless you've been bitten by the Lone Star tick. It can give victims an allergic reaction to red meat. The allergy, whose nickname is "Alpha-Gal," may recede over time, but there is currently no cure or vaccine.
As in many areas of the country, Oak Park is seeing an uptick in the kinds and numbers of ticks and related diseases–Illinois has 15 different species. The Lone Star tick is one of the few that is likely to be encountered by people, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The Alpha-Gal allergy is particularly challenging because of its delayed onset, with symptoms occurring three to eight hours after eating. This can puzzle sufferers, and sometimes doctors, about what is causing their symptoms.
The allergy is still rare, but the key to avoiding it and other more common tick-borne illnesses like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease is prevention: always use insect repellent and avoid high grass and shrubbery.
When you get home from spending time outdoors, check yourself for ticks, especially in the warm, moist areas that ticks love: behind your knees, your groin, armpits and behind your ears.
Reaction symptoms are typical of most food allergies and include respiratory distress, hives, severe whole-body itching, gastrointestinal upset, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
If bitten by a tick, I encourage my patients to call if they exhibit symptoms of tick-borne illness. This includes things like a red spot or rash near the bite site, neck stiffness, a headache, nausea, weakness or joint pain.
A tick should never be removed using methods like burning it with a hot match or smothering it with petroleum jelly. For tips on how to properly remove and dispose of a tick, visit https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html. For help identifying common ticks in our area, visit http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pccommonticks.htm.
At my Oak Park practice avoiding the risk of infectious disease is always on the agenda. If you or your children spend lots of time outdoors, a comprehensive, unhurried conversation with your doctor is definitely called for.
We offer our members no-delay, no-rush office visits and quick access to the doctor via cell phone and email, as well as a very thorough, 2.5-hour annual physical exam. It includes consultation with a dietitian and a professional physical trainer, and a two-month trial gym membership so you can get your exercise indoors.
If that is of interest for you and your loved ones, consider paying us a visit. I would love to show you our offices and explain further. Call us at 708-455-2094 or visit WellcomeMD.com for more information.
Dr. Ingrid Liu is the Medical Director at WellcomeMD, a membership-based medical practice in Oak Park, IL.
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