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Invasive Fire Ant Population Could Explain Why Some States Have Fewer Cases of Red Meat Allergy

Despite the presence of the lone star tick, which is known to induce alpha-gal syndrome, cases of alpha-gal in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico are low, and it might be due to the invasive fire ant species.

Originally scheduled to be presented for the first time at the 2020 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) before it was cancelled due to the situation with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), this study was developed due to a “shortage” of cases of alpha-gal syndrome in the region. Alpha-gal refers to having an allergy to a carbohydrate molecule that’s found in most mammalian or “red meat” and is known to be caused from the lone star tick. Researchers conducted a survey of allergy clinics to determine if the lack of cases was due to the invasive fire ant species, who are known predators of the lone star tick.

Researchers collected survey data from allergy clinics within and north of the U.S. Department of Agriculture fire ant quarantine zone, looking at the presence of fire ant anaphylaxis cases and alpha-gal syndrome. These cases were plotted on maps that showed county-level fire ant quarantine data from 1931 to 2018. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the distribution of lone star ticks was also plotted.

A total of 87 allergy clinics provided data for the study. Before 1974, large numbers of fire ant anaphylaxis cases were reported within the quarantined area. In areas quarantined between 1974 and 2018, the cases became variable with few cases reported outside the quarantined area. Most importantly, researchers found a strong inverse correlation between cases of fire ant anaphylaxis and cases of alpha-gal syndrome within the range of lone star ticks. Essentially this means that the more fire ant anaphylaxis cases there were, the less cases of alpha-gal, and vice versa.

“What we’re seeing with this data set is how two different allergy-causing species impact each other, and therefore, the type of reported symptoms we are seeing in regional allergy clinics,” said Thomas A.E. Platts-Mills, MD, PhD, FAAAAI, first author of the study. “Studies like this can improve both public health and epidemiology efforts when it comes to pests that cause dangerous allergic reactions. These results may also make it possible to predict future changes in these diseases."

Visit to learn more about fire ant allergy and alpha-gal. This research was published in an online supplement to The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) represents allergists, asthma specialists, clinical immunologists, allied health professionals and others with a special interest in the research and treatment of allergic and immunologic diseases. Established in 1943, the AAAAI has over 7,000 members in the United States, Canada and 72 other countries. The AAAAI’s Find an Allergist/Immunologist service is a trusted resource to help you find a specialist close to home.


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