Traditionally every fall, Joseph “Joe” Ducaji, M.D., an anesthesiologist affiliated with Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois, had gone deer hunting for two to three weeks. He loved “sitting in a tree stand watching wildlife.” Recently, however, one of Joe’s hunting trips was spoiled when the night before his trip, he woke up “feeling terrible” and had to cancel the outing. Joe could only equate his illness to the steak he’d eaten for dinner the evening before. For a couple of years prior, he’d been having “gastrointestinal trouble,” particularly whenever he ate steak or other fatty red meat. Dairy products had also begun to make him feel ill.
“I thought I had irritable bowel syndrome,” says Joe, who had his gall bladder removed to address the problem. This relieved his symptoms for a time, but they eventually started coming back.
For example, one warm Sunday in October, Joe and his family enjoyed a steak dinner together outside. Following dinner, Joe prepared to go for a swim in the family’s pool. Before entering the water, however, Joe noticed hives on his arms. “I thought that was weird, but I got in the pool … and I couldn’t even swim because I was so busy scratching at the hives that were spreading,” says Joe who, unknown to him, was going into anaphylaxis.
Next came the GI symptoms, so severe that Joe describes it like being given a bowel prep for a colonoscopy. A couple of hours later he got the chills. It was then that Joe called his friend, an ER doctor at Memorial, and described his symptoms, suspecting they had something to do with the steak he’d eaten earlier in the day. Later that night, Joe’s symptoms subsided, and by the next morning, his friend had texted him information about a disease called alpha-gal syndrome (AGS). “I had never heard of it,” Joe says. “As I read what he had texted me, I thought, ‘Man, this sounds like me.’ Because it’s a meat allergy that you can obtain from a tick bite.”
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