Alpha-gal syndrome

I learn about new disorders all the time here in MRI. Normally I’ve at least heard the name of the disease or disorder before, or I know a teeny bit about it.

I have never heard of alpha-gal. At least, I’ve never heard the name.

Turns out, I have heard of the disorder before. I had a patient once tell me he was allergic to pork because of a tick bite.

Alpha-gal is a “sugar molecule found in most mammals (except in people, apes, and monkeys)” (CDC.gov, 2019). Turns out there is a tick (lone star tick) that can transmit the molecule in blood from the animal to humans. We humans don’t normally make the molecule but apparently we can make an immune response to it. If we develop an allergy then we can no longer eat meat from cow, pork, rabbit, deer, lamb, essentially the animals work hooves! The odd thing about it, and what makes it kind of hard to diagnose, is the fact that the reaction tends to take place 3-6 hours after the ingestion of meat. It’s hard for a lot of people to make the association between meat and their allergic reactions.

I found a good podcast about the disorder. Lots of information about how it works and the ongoing research around it.

One of the things I realized while looking further into the disease is how important it is to ask your patient about allergies. Alpha-gal is uncommon, however, patients with it can’t have certain medications. Heparin is typically derived from pork. Some insulin is derived from pigs and cows as well. There are quite a few medications that have porcine or bovine derivatives. A nurse would have to make sure to take this into account for their patient with this particular allergy.

Then again, when is the nurse not taking safety into account, right?

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