Meat allergy nightmare

2016-10-24 12:17
Pietermaritzburg woman Rene Morcom was recently diagnosed with a meat allergy. She can no longer eat meat or use certain medi-cations that have animal by-products in them, lest she have a severe allergic reaction.

Pietermaritzburg woman Rene Morcom was recently diagnosed with a meat allergy. She can no longer eat meat or use certain medi-cations that have animal by-products in them, lest she have a severe allergic reaction. (Chelsea Pieterse)

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A Pietermaritzburg woman has been diagnosed with the first confirmed case of a rare meat allergy, Alpha Gal, in South Africa.

Rene Morcom (31) was diagnosed with the rare, little-known allergy in August this year after suffering several anaphylactic shock episodes hours after ingesting meat.

The allergy was first identified in America in 2009 and was discovered to be transmitted to humans through the bite of a certain species of tick.

Alpha Gal is a carbohydrate component in mammals’ blood, but not found in humans’ blood.

When the tick bites a grazing cow or sheep, the tick carries the carbohydrate in its body.

When the tick then bites a human, the Alpha Gal is injected into the human, causing the person to have an allergic reaction when they eat meat.

Morcom’s first reaction, in January this year, was “unexpected” and “the most physical pain” she had “ever felt”.

“It was a Sunday, and I had made the family our home-made steak and kidney pie. Everything was fine, until a few hours later when I was sitting on the bedroom floor, playing with my child.

“It started with what I thought was a flea bite on my rib cage, then another bite appeared until my whole body, even my ear canals, was covered in this rash.

“It felt like there was hot lava running through my bloodstream; it had affected my eyes, it was on my face, in between my toes.”

Morcom said she told her husband she needed to get to the hospital immediately.

“I was so disorientated, and I was immediately given adrenaline shots and put on a drip. I was in hospital for four days.”

Morcom said the doctors took blood samples but the results only showed that she had a mild allergy to milk, which she had known about.

After being in and out of hospital following another five reactions, she had a particularly bad reaction after eating braai meat in August.

While lying in the hospital bed as doctors tried to figure out what the cause of the severe reactions were, Morcom said she started doing her own research.

“I realised that the reactions came after every time I ate meat. I Googled ‘delayed allergic reactions to meat’ and Alpha Gal came up.”

She said the doctors knew almost nothing about the allergy so she had her blood tested for Alpha Gal by a laboratory in Johannesburg.

The results came back positive.

“I was relieved that I had found the cause, but I also felt so alone.

“There is very little known about Alpha Gal in South Africa, and many doctors are not aware of the allergy.”

Morcom said after doing some research, she found a paper written on Alpha Gal in South Africa by Dr Claudia Gray in Cape Town.

Gray directed Morcom to an allergist in Durban who told her she was his first patient with Alpha Gal.

Durban-based allergist and immunologist Dr Ahmed Manjra said the case of Alpha Gal had been confirmed by Morcom’s blood results.

“There were two reported cases in George, but this is the first that has been confirmed,” said Manjra.

He said the allergy was potentially life-threatening and although there had only been one confirmed case, he suspected that there were others living with the allergy, especially in rural areas where ticks were prevalent.

Gray said each country seemed to have a different species of tick that transmitted the allergy, but little was known about the allergy in South Africa.

Manjra said there needed to be more awareness surrounding the allergy and if people felt they had Alpha Gal, they should have their blood tested immediately.

Morcom said each day was a voyage of discovery about what food to avoid and what food was safe to eat.

She said she could no longer eat out at restaurants or friends’ houses because of cross contamination.

“If they cook chicken where they have cooked red meat or near to it, I will have a reaction,” she said.

Certain medication and soaps containing gelatin cause allergic reactions too and she said she has been told by Manjra which medications to avoid, which include chemotherapy drugs and even certain headache tablets.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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