What we know about red meat allergy

Published Online: March 1, 2015

Within the past 10 years, a new form of allergy has emerged that occurs after eating red meat that can result in urticaria, digestive discomfort and even anaphylaxis requiring emergency room care. In a study recently published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), J. Steinke, S. Commins and T.A.E. Platts-Mills present a summary on the discovery of red meat allergy and what is known about how people develop the allergy.

The authors have reported that the reaction to red meat is due to a sugar molecule expressed on red meat called alpha-gal. Two events led to this discovery. A significant number of cancer patients being given Cetuximab developed strong allergic reactions to the drug that in some cases resulted in death. Seemingly unrelated were a group of people who reported stomach and sometimes skin problems 4-6 hours after eating red meat. The researchers discovered that a sugar molecule was put on the surface of both the drug and red meat which was responsible for the reactions. For the development of red meat allergy, there was an association with tick bites that occurred several months before the reactions to meat developed. Initially, the cases were isolated to the southeastern United States, however the area containing reported cases has grown beyond this region.

Despite our long recognition of environmental factors causing allergic reactions, new allergens are being identified that challenge our view of how disease develops. Several unknowns are still being investigated about the development of red meat allergy. Is the Lone Start tick really responsible for development of the disease in the United States, why does it take so long for the reactions to occur and how long if tick bites are avoided until red meat can be eaten again? As the number of reports of red meat allergy grows, providing answers to these questions will help to understand IgE responses to a parasite as well as help improve patient care.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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