KENTUCKY (FOX 56) — Kentucky is among the states with the highest known cases of tick-borne illnesses, but experts said the number is probably higher.

According to the University of Kentucky, thousands of Kentuckians could be living with a red meat allergy without knowing it.

Alpha-gal syndrome is a condition that’s triggered by the bite of a lone star tick, and the bite induces a life-threatening allergy to the carbohydrates found in red meat. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of the condition vary among people, and no treatment or cure is currently available for those affected.

The CDC conducted a study from 2017 to 2022 to compare geographic data with those who tested positive for AGS.

Over 90,000 positive cases were reported during the study, and the highest prevalence of suspected cases was found throughout a “nearly contiguous region of the southern, midwestern, and mid-Atlantic United States,” the CDC said. Specifically, in areas where the lone star tick is found, which includes Kentucky.

(Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

The highest number of suspected cases per 1 million people was specifically found in Muhlenberg County, with 6,107 positive suspected cases of AGS.

Nationwide, “the number of new suspected cases increased by approximately 15,000 each year during the study,” the CDC said. However, 42% of healthcare providers surveyed had never heard of the condition, and 35% reported they were “not too confident” in their ability to diagnose it.

“If testing trends continue, and the geographic range of the lone star tick continues to expand, the number of AGS cases in the United States is predicted to increase during the coming years, presenting a critical need for synergistic public health activities,” the CDC said. “Including 1, community education targeting tick bite prevention to reduce the risk of acquiring AGS, 2, health care provider education to improve timely diagnosis and management, and 3, improved surveillance to aid public health decision-making.”