How a Tick Bite Could Change Your Diet Forever

A tick-borne syndrome causes severe meat allergies. One company is finding a workaround—but it's not widely available yet.

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Tick bait, the whole lot of you
Tick bait, the whole lot of you
Photo: NDAB Creativity (Shutterstock)

It’s tempting to run outside the minute the temperature hits 75. The desire to tear off one’s sweatpants and expose those pasty gams to the world is overpowering. I get that, I do. But I’m begging you to take one precautionary step before traipsing around in the spring sunshine: apply a layer of insect repellant. Otherwise, you could end up like the thousands of individuals with alpha-gal syndrome, an allergy to mammalian tissue that results from the bite of the sinister Lone Star tick. No mammalian tissue = no pork or red meat, dudes. And while one company is working to create options for alpha-gal sufferers, they’re not widely available yet. Hence, the need to douse yourself in OFF!

What is alpha-gal syndrome?

We reported on alpha-gal syndrome back in 2018, when a researcher named Scott Commins was working to spread the word about the relatively rare affliction. Alpha-gal syndrome was first discovered in 2008, and it afflicts tens of thousands of Americans. They all got it the same way: from the Lone Star tick, a sneaky little bastard rapidly scuttling across the United States.

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Alpha-gal syndrome isn’t just an allergy to red meat; it’s an allergy to all mammalian products. Not only do sufferers have to avoid pork, red meat, and most dairy; they also have to watch out for mammalian by-products hiding in medications, candies, skincare products, and pretty much everything else.

Can people with alpha-gal syndrome eat any meat?

Well, chicken’s safe, as are turkey and fish. But all mammalian meat—meat from pigs and cows—has previously been off the table. Until now, that is. The Atlantic reports that Revivicor, a biotech company, could have the answer. Revivicor is focused on genetically modifying pigs to create organs for human transplant (yes, that’s a thing); however, Revivicor has recently found itself at the center of the alpha-gal syndrome community.

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Per Atlantic reporter Sarah Zhang, alpha-gal has been a major complication for Revivicor. “Because human bodies don’t naturally produce this molecule, its presence on, say, a pig organ causes immune rejection,” Zhang writes. “To get around this, Revivicor had to create a pig lacking a functional gene for alpha-gal.” Behold: genetically modified pork that is, theoretically, safe for individuals with alpha-gal syndrome. No alpha gal, no reaction to the pork. Happy eatin’.

Fast forward to late last year, when the company began offering free samples of alpha gal-free pork—known as “GalSafe pork”—to individuals in alpha-gal support groups. Soon, aforementioned researcher Scott Commins will begin a Revivicor-funded study to “formally confirm the pork’s safety for people with alpha-gal syndrome,” Zhang writes. But until then, individuals with alpha-gal will have to continue avoiding mammalian meat products. Take heed, frolickers: a single tick bite could change your diet forever.

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