Tick bite that causes meat allergy on the rise in Middle Tennessee

Local News

Six months ago, Chris Aycock was bitten by a lone-star tick while working outdoors.  

He developed a mark on his skin that remained for about two weeks. He didn’t think much of it until December when he was out on a date with his wife.  

“I was in the last ten minutes of the movie and I started getting that feeling in my throat like you get when you’re getting sick, a tickle,” Aycock told News 2. 

The tickle quickly turned into incessant itching and then, the feeling he was going to pass out.  

His wife dialed 911. Astute Nashville paramedics saw that Aycock was going into anaphylactic shock. They administered an epi-pen and rushed him to the hospital. 

“I knew it was serious because there were a lot of doctors and nurses in the room and they didn’t leave,” he said. 

Aycock spent the night in the Intensive Care Unit. After he left the next day, he made an appointment with an allergist.  

Dr. Keegan Smith with Heritage Medical Associates began asking Aycock what he had eaten and when.  

Aycock had eaten two sausage patties and four slices of bacon that morning at breakfast. It didn’t take Dr. Smith long to figure out that Aycock had alpha-gal syndrome.  

“The history is what directs us towards alpha-gal,” Dr. Smith told News 2. “Usually those with alpha-gal react hours after eating the food and that’s different from other food allergies.” 

Lone-star tick bites can cause alpha-gal syndrome, which then causes an allergy to the carbohydrate found in non-primate mammal meat; the patient must avoid any meat that comes from an animal with hooves.  

“It’s the simple things: it’s the burgers, hot dogs of all things, and steak,” said Aycock. “Of course, this is the South. There’s not too many vegetables that are cooked without a kiss of ham in it or something.” 

Dr. Smith says he is seeing a rise in the syndrome. He contributes the rise to both an increase in tick bites and also in diagnosis. 

“Plenty of people have this so it’s probably new but it’s also diagnosed more because we have a good test and we’re aware of it,” Dr. Smith told News 2. 

There is no cure for alpha-gal syndrome but for most, it goes away with time.  

To avoid contracting the disease, the Centers for Disease Control recommends you: 

  • Use insect repellent on clothing, gear, and skin 
  • Avoid wooded areas and high grass 
  • Check clothing, gear, pets and yourself for ticks 
  • Shower within two hours of coming indoors 

For now, Aycock carries an epi-pen, wears a medic bracelet and avoids most meat. 

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