cream ridge, new jersey — Imagine being told not to eat your favorite foods or participate in your favorite activities because it is life threatening.
For 62-year-old Craig Smith of Cream Ridge, it became a reality when he learned he had a tick-borne disease known as Alpha Gal Syndrome, which causes allergies to red meat and dairy.
A retired worker who has lived in the municipality for 40 years now says he sprays bug spray around his ankles and under his socks every time he goes outside.
He believes he was bitten last spring while chopping firewood in his garden. He’s now afraid to do that activity, not just gardening.
“It’s devastating because I’ve been in the woods all the time. I’m scared to go into the woods,” Smith said.
Smith said he realized something was wrong when he was experiencing skin and gastrointestinal issues.
“I woke up in the middle of the night. My body was covered with hives. One time I had hives on my neck… They started with lots of small hives and sometimes huge hives. hives on the diner plate, hot, itchy, and very uncomfortable,” Smith said.
After visiting different doctors for about three months, Smith says he saw an allergist.
A neighbor mentioned alpha-gal syndrome caused by bites from solitary star mites with white markings.
Smith had her blood tested by an allergist, who tested positive for Alpha IgE, confirming her presence.
“The allergist said I should be tested again in a year and avoid all animal products.
Dr. Purvi Parikh of the Allergy & Asthma Network states that ticks feed on the blood of deer, pigs, cows or lambs, and the tick’s bite introduces some of those carbohydrates into humans.
“Usually, food allergic reactions occur within 30 to 60 minutes of ingesting food, but in alpha-gal syndrome, breathing problems, vomiting, It makes me dizzy,” Parikh said.
Smith said that, like others with alpha-gal, it should be avoided “milk, dairy products, anything derived from mammals.”
“You can only eat chicken, fish and lizards because they are made from eggs,” says Smith.
His three meat smokers sat collecting dust in the garden and had to pause his lifelong diet of eating red meat and hosting pig roasts with friends .
“People don’t understand that you could die from it. You could go into anaphylactic shock, your throat would close, and you could potentially die.
He says even high blood pressure medications cause reactions.
“The medicine contains animal products, so I continue to take it. My brother died of high blood pressure without taking medicine. I have a stomach ache every day, but I still take medicine.” I do,” Smith said.
Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine report that cases of alpha-gal have increased from 24 since its discovery in 2009 to about 40,000 today.
Parikh says she is also seeing cases locally.
“Many come from areas such as Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey where ticks are highly prevalent,” she said.
She adds that this is one of the only allergies humans can get from flying insects.
Dr. Tamar Weinberger, an allergist at Hackensack University Medical Center, says that unlike most food allergies, which last a lifetime, this allergy can go away over time.
“Currently, the only treatment is to avoid the trigger foods, and they are working on potential desensitization to allergies.
Smith hasn’t lost hope.
“I want to go back to smoking meat someday,” he said.
For now, his nutritionist says it was important in helping him stay alive.
For tips on how to protect yourself from ticks outdoors this season, the CDC has the following information: cdc.gov/ticks
https://www.cbsnews.com/newyork/news/alpha-gal-syndrome-tick-borne-illness-red-meat-dairy-allergy/ Doctors say tick-borne disease causing red meat allergy is on the rise in Tristate area