Alpha-gal concern rises

Alpha gal syndrome triggered by the bite of lone star ticks has experts concerned. — James Gathany

The prevalence of allergic reactions triggered from the bite of the lone star tick has Vineyard tick experts concerned. Alpha-gal, a type of mammalian sugar, somehow becomes problematic through bites of lone star ticks, and can cause people to have reactions to meat products. Known as alpha-gal syndrome, the reactions can be severe, such as anaphylaxis, shock, or heart problems. Or the reactions can simply cause gastrointestinal distress or hives. 

“Lone stars and alpha-gal are our biggest concern,” Dukes County tick biologist Patrick Roden-Reynolds told The Times. Roden-Reynolds says he and former county tick biologist Dick Johnson have seen an uptick in alpha-gal cases. 

Tufts University tick expert Sam Telford said, “Not much is known about [alpha-gal] and how to treat it.” Telford said if one doesn’t get bitten by another tick, the syndrome should abate in about six months. 

“It’s a terrible thing if you’re a meat eater,” he said. Telford also said, “Lone stars are really expanding,” and the Vineyard may soon be intolerably overrun with them. 

Roden-Reynolds said while lone star ticks can be found across the Island, Aquinnah, Chilmark, and Chappaquiddick are where they are most concentrated. 

While lone star ticks don’t transmit Lyme disease, Roden-Reynolds noted that in addition to triggering alpha-gal allergies, the ticks can transmit ehrlichiosis, STARI, and tularemia.

Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said an alpha-gal discussion group is being considered. Poole said it would likely be moderated by a registered nurse, if created. Poole said generally speaking, alpha-gal is “definitely being talked about more” at the Vineyard boards of health. Chilmark health agent Marina Lent said much the same.

Lone star nymphs, which are poppy seed–size, can bite people en masse, as can lone star larvae, which are pinhead size. The larvae bites can be so awful, one Southern newspaper editor suggested the lone star tick wasn’t the Lord’s creation, but the Devil’s. 

“I don’t know the evolutionary beginning of ticks, but I’m positive they’re not of God,” Ben Garrett, editor of the Independent Herald in Oneida, Tenn., wrote in an opinion piece. “I’m convinced that the first lone star tick crawled directly out of the pits of hell, because its offspring are literally the spawn of Satan.”


  1. Depending on the lens you look through, there are 2 possibilities here.
    If you are a paranoid right wing nut case, you will think this is a cabal engineered “disease” that is meant to control us in a lame attempt to “save the planet” by keeping us from eating meat. It seems that “Sleepy Joe” couldn’t pass that law about limiting every American to one hamburger a month — it didn’t even come up for a vote for some reason. Actually. it was never even proposed. Hmmmm
    On the other hand, we have left wing nut cases that think this is some sort of divine Gaia defense mechanism to save the planet.
    Who knows ?
    But maybe there are other possibilities, like “stuff happens”(I’m being polite)
    Either way, take precautions against the ticks. We are bigger, stronger and smarter than they are.
    nil carborundum Illegitimi.

  2. Came to the island on the back of a dog from New Jersey? Article could talk about how it came to the island a bit…

    • Zeb
      it is almost certain that the lone star ticks came to the Vineyard on ground feeding birds. They have been spreading up the east coast from the southeastern US. First seen on Long Island, NY in 1971. The first one that I know of on the Vineyard was from 1985. They are now spreading in Maine. Once there are enough ticks to establish a breeding population (i.e. enough so that males and females can easily find each other), the population grows very rapidly because they can lay up to 5000-8000 eggs each. Deer are the reproductive hosts (I call deer the “singles bars”). The females feed on the deer to get energy to produce the eggs and then mate with the males that are also on the deer looking for females. If interested, you can get more info on the Boards of Health website You can also email us at and we will send you an electronic copy of our Alpha Gal brochure.

    • There’s plenty of science. This article shows how uneducated the reporter is regarding Alpha Gal Syndrome (AGS) as well as the “tick expert” from Tuft University. It does not go away in 6 months. This is a real issue that doesn’t just involve “stop eating red meat.” People with AGS cannot take life saving medications due to all the mammal byproducts in them. We do not care if we can’t eat red meat. The syndrome is so much more debilitating than “change your diet.”

  3. I’m hopeful for the vaccine that we can choose to take freely was proven safe and effective. In the meantime please thin the island of deer and mice. Too bad this lone star stick couldn’t bite you and make you want to be a vegetarian. Meat is getting too expensive and my cholesterol went up a few points.

  4. I wish reporters would do their due diligence when reporting about Alpha Gal Syndrome. Yes, it makes you allergic to all mammal meats. People that have AGS (like myself) could care less about not eating neat. The problem is there are mammal byproducts in MEDICATIONS that we need to take. Some life saving medications such as heparin, morphine, medications with glycerin, gelatin and even snake venom. Not to mention if we needed a pig valve for heart condition. Mammal byproducts can be hidden in all types of other foods, vitamins and OTC counter drugs that contain magnesium stearate. We have to watch out for seafood and birds that could be fed food with mammal ingredients. Not to mention there is a natural additive called Carageenan (Irish moss) that has the same epitope thus causing the same reaction as eating mammal. This ingredient (that’s banned in the UK) is used as a preservative in dairy and non-dairy items, foods labeled organic, and seafood. The FDA does not force companies to add this to all labels so we never know what kind of danger it will be to eat anything. It’s a terrible syndrome. We can’t even eat at restaurants due to fear of cross contamination. It’s life changing and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    • Karrie, my apologies for making light of this situation as you clearly have shown this isn’t something not to be flippant about.

    • After having anaphylaxis twice, my allergist erdered this testing for me. Fortunately it was not the culprit, but this was the beginning of my becoming aware of other seemingly innocuous substances wevmight encounter daily.

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