Alpha-gal syndrome on the rise in NWA

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"I wouldn’t wish this on anybody," Tj Bruce said. "I mean it’s a life-changing ordeal."

BELLA VISTA, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A Benton County couple’s world turned upside down after getting bit by a tick.

My life is completely different, it is a total 180.

TJ BRUCE, HAS ALPHA-GAL SYNDROME

About two years ago, Tj Bruce found a tick bite underneath his armpit after sitting on his deck outside of his Bella Vista home.

“About a month later my vision started getting really really blurry,” he said.

Bruce’s wife, Alannah, was also bitten.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” Bruce said. “As much as I wouldn’t want her to have it, it is nice to have extra support when it comes to food and dinner time.”

They both have alpha-gal syndrome, a meat allergy that’s transmitted by lone star ticks.

“If somebody told me that you could have a mammalian meat allergy from a tick bite, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Bruce said. “But it is out there and it’s increasing every year especially in our area.”

Doctor Tina Merritt is an allergist at Allergy & Asthma Clinic of Northwest Arkansas.

She also has the alpha-gal allergy after she was bitten by ticks as a child.

The lone star tick is very prevalent in Arkansas.

DR. TINA MERRITT, ALLERGIST, ALLERGY & ASTHMA CLINIC OF NWA

Dr. Merritt said the only treatment for the allergy is avoiding things that are mammal — that means foods, but it also includes products.

“Makeups have to be vegan,” Dr. Merritt said. “Soaps, lotions and even detergents have to be vegan.”

“It’s not just you get the chicken sandwich instead of the hamburger,” Bruce said. “It affects every day of your life — as far as your medication, products that you put on yourself, bath products, food, basically everything is changed.”

Dr. Merritt said in her practice alone, she has over 500 patients with alpha-gal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way you can prevent yourself from getting alpha-gal is to cover up when in wooded areas and make sure that your insect repellent has at least 20% DEET in it.

“Once you get bitten, try and remove the tick as quickly as possible,” Dr. Merritt said.

I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, I mean it’s a life-changing ordeal.

TJ BRUCE, HAS ALPHA-GAL SYNDROME
ticks2_1465916088947.png

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research & Extension has an Arkansas Tickborne Disease Project.

The project includes a Tick Data Map where collection samples were gathered of certain ticks.

Courtesy of the U of A Arkansas Tickborne Disease Project
  • The red shows the Lone Star Ticks.
  • The green shows the Gulf Coast Ticks.
  • The purple shows the American Dog Ticks.
  • The yellow shows the Black Legged Ticks.

For more information about the project, or to see the interactive Tick Data Map click here.

Tj Bruce also started an alpha-gal syndrome support group on Facebook. It’s called “Alpha-Gal Only”.

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