Family speaks out about diagnosis to help save lives

Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 6:29 PM EDT
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GRANITEVILLE, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -The most common tick in our area can make you deathly allergic to red meat.

It sounds like science fiction, but take it from a 9-year-old in Graniteville who is now on the road to recovery.

It took doctors months to figure out why he was sick.

Our I-TEAM first told you about this allergy a year ago, but new numbers from the CDC show more than 40 percent of doctors still don’t know about it and thousands more could have it.

Two years ago, Jakob Herring couldn’t play the sports he loved to the best of his ability without struggling to catch his breath.

“It’s hard to watch your kids struggle, especially when they’re little and they can’t tell you exactly what’s going on. It’s just heart-wrenching,” said his mother, April Herring.

Jakob started first grade just like any other child- healthy and ready to learn.

By the end of the year, he could hardly get out of bed.

“It wasn’t good. I mean, I was coughing constantly. I remember one night, I couldn’t go to school because I stayed up and my mom had to bring in the breathing treatment,” said Jakob.

April says she thought he had a cold.

“We’ve put air purifiers in the house and all through the house. We did allergy medicines, everything, and nothing was helping,” she said.

By this point, Covid had taken over.

April says they had to wait months to see a doctor and Jakob had developed a new symptom

“We began to see hives on him. We initially thought that it was heat. We waited about four months for an allergy appointment, all while trying to help him manage his cough and giving him medicines that also had animal byproducts,” she said.

Last March, doctors finally diagnosed him with Alpha-gal Syndrome, stemming from a bite from a lone star tick.

“We saw a nurse practitioner and she said, this is chronic, you know, it’s continuous. We’re going to get you into the allergist,” she said.

Luckily, Jakob’s doctor in Augusta knew about Alpha-gal.

It’s a severe allergy to red meat, pork, or venison.

Some people, like Jakob, are so allergic they can’t have marshmallows or gelatin.

Symptoms show up hours after eating, so it can be difficult to connect the dots to food.

Symptoms can include the following:

  • Hives or itchy rash
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, or eyelids
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Symptoms commonly appear two to six hours after eating meat or dairy products or after exposure to products containing alpha-gal (for example, gelatin-coated medications).
  • AGS reactions can be different from person to person. They can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening. Anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening reaction involving multiple organ systems) may need urgent medical care.

“I knew it would change. I know that my prayers do not go unanswered. He’s a miracle worker. He’s a helper. And I sought him out. As a mother, that’s my job is to first seek him to get the knowledge and the wisdom that I needed that he’s given me to be able to protect my son, and to keep him alive,” said April.

New statistics from the CDC show 110,000 people tested positive for Alpha-gal from 2010-2022, but doctors believe there could be as many as 450,000 others affected by it right now, who don’t know it.

That’s because a study revealed 43% of doctors have never heard of this.

One-third were not too confident they could diagnose it.

Luckily for Jakob, his doctor knew what it was right away.

“March of this year, we found out he was no longer allergic to beef, but is still allergic to everything else,” said April.

Jakob said: “I knew God would handle it. I praise him for that. I can never thank him enough for that. And I’m just happy about it.”

Jakob’s family says daily tick checks and making yourself familiar with this illness can save your life during the waiting.