NORTH CAROLINA -- With tick season in full-swing, doctors are seeing more cases of an unusual allergy caused by a tick bite.
Alpha-gal is a red meat allergy that researchers believe is caused by a tick bite.
"It's called alpha-gal," Dr. Scott Commins with the UNC School of Medicine explained. "It's basically a sugar found on mammals like cows and pigs. So people have tick bites and then they end up becoming allergic to the alpha-gal sugar."
Dr. Commins was one of the first researchers to study alpha-gal. He's found anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of people in North Carolina have contracted the allergy.
"It's incredibly hard to diagnose because the reaction takes so long to occur after eating, anywhere from 3 to 6 hours," Commins explained. "So people have a steak for dinner but won't have an allergic reaction until they are in bed. So it's hard to realize the meat is what caused the reaction."
And he says they're seeing more and more cases every day because of the spread of the Lone Star Tick, which doctors believe is the carrier.
"The Lone Star Tick population and geographical range is expanding. So not only are they more aggressive but there are more of them," Commins said.
Allergic reactions associated with alpha-gal range from mild symptoms like hives or stomach pains, to more severe reactions like difficulty breathing or losing consciousness.
According to the CDC, the tick is widely distributed in the southeastern and eastern part of the United States.
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