Review Article

Ingestion of mammalian meat and alpha-gal allergy: Clinical relevance in primary care

Tshegofatso Mabelane, Gboyega A. Ogunbanjo
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 11, No 1 | a1901 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v11i1.1901 | © 2019 Tshegofatso Mabelane, Gboyega A. Ogunbanjo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 July 2018 | Published: 29 April 2019

About the author(s)

Tshegofatso Mabelane, Allergy and Immunology Unit, University of Cape Town, Lung Institute, Mowbray, South Africa
Gboyega A. Ogunbanjo, Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Ga-Rankuwa, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: An allergic reaction to mammalian meat has recently been reported in rural parts of South Africa and throughout other parts of the world. The cause of this allergic reaction is because of an oligosaccharide antigen known as galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose (alpha-gal) found in mammalian meat. Hard ticks in various parts of the world have been identified as a cause of sensitisation to the alpha-gal antigen. However, mechanisms of sensitisation in Africa are poorly understood.

Aim: The aim of this article is to review current literature on the alpha-gal allergy and mammalian meat ingestion and the family physician’s role in diagnosing and managing this condition.

Method: Indexes were searched using the keywords in the following electronic databases: Elsevier Science Direct, Google Scholar, Medline and PubMed.

Results: Clinical presentation of the alpha-gal allergy occurs typically as a delayed anaphylaxis occurring within 3–6 hours after the ingestion of mammalian meat. A subset of patients described in South Africa presented with a rapid onset of symptoms occurring within 45 minutes. Furthermore, some of these patients present with abdominal symptoms only, which may be mistaken as food poisoning. Diagnosis is based on a history of reaction to mammalian meats (especially to fatty portions or organs) and serum specific alpha-gal antibodies. The main management of the alpha-gal allergy is avoidance of red meat and in mild reactions treatment with oral H1 receptor antihistamines.

Conclusion: Sensitisation to the alpha-gal allergy results in adverse reactions to red meat, with tolerance to turkey, chicken and fish. A family physician can safely manage this condition.


Keywords

alpha-gal allergy; mammalian meat; management; primary care; specific IgE antibody; alpha-gal sensitisation

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