Allergy brought on by tick bite changes life overnight for sufferers


ROANOKE (WSLS 10) – When you think of food allergies, nuts or dairy probably come to mind. But a Roanoke man was surprised to learn, at 50-years-old, he’d developed an allergy that meant something as common as a hamburger was off limits.

Alpha-Gal is an allergic reaction to a carbohydrate found in red meat brought on in some by being bitten by a tick. Bill Wilson was never a big red meat-eater, but enjoyed the occasional burger. But three years ago, he started having allergic reactions and couldn’t pinpoint their cause.

Each reaction increased in frequency and severity, so he then went to see an allergist who confirmed he was having delayed allergies after eating meat. The doctor said the cause was a tick bite. Wilson said he remembered taking his kids fishing – where he was exposed to chiggers and possibly a tick.

“I came home from that trip just sort of covered in chigger bites. Maybe 75 or 100 of them,” Wilson remembered.

The first allergic reaction to a cheeseburger came a week later.

“Was a little hard to believe because no one had heard of it. It was a brand new diagnosis,” Wilson said

Allergist Dr. Dane McBride said Alpha-Gal allergies were first reported in medical literature in 2009, but now he sees patients with the same allergy at least once a week. The problem, he said, is more common in southwest and central Virginia than elsewhere.

“We have more folks that are spending time outdoors. We have more hunters in this area than a lot of places,” Dr. McBride explained.

Unlike other food allergies, Alpha-Gal allergies can happen to people who’ve never been allergic. The reaction, anything from simple itching to full blown anaphylaxis, can be delayed four, six to eight hours after eating red meat. Dr. McBride said it’s important to see a doctor if you have repeated, unexplained symptoms.

The good news is, people with milder symptoms could see the allergy diminish after several years of avoiding red meat and tick bites.

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