A group in Northwest Arkansas is working to raise awareness of one of the hidden dangers of the great outdoors — tick bites and their associated potential for long-term diseases and other problems with an event to encourage awareness of ticks and how to avoid them. The event is scheduled for 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday, April 28 at the Fayetteville Plaza, off the square in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

With the coming of Spring, almost everyone is clamoring to get outdoors.

The morel mushrooms are coming up now, drawing people into the woods; Memorial Day will be here soon, marking the start of the summer travel season.

A group in Northwest Arkansas is working to raise awareness of one of the hidden dangers of the great outdoors — tick bites and their associated potential for long-term diseases and other problems.

The Alpha Gal Encouragers of Northwest Arkansas group is holding an awareness event in Fayetteville, Arkansas from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, April 28 at the Fayetteville Plaza, right off the town square.

This is a group of people who have contracted Alpha Gal, a mammal meat allergy caused by the bite of one of the most common species of tick in Missouri, the Lone Star tick. That's the tick with the white dot on its back, and its bite can change lives.

Sick all the time

Former Carthage Technical Center teacher Renee Riley was sick all the time as a kid and it continued as she grew up, but no one in the medical field could put a name on what was causing her suffering.

Riley, a Carthage resident for 25 years before moving to Springfield three years ago, remembers figuring out as a kid that bacon seemed to make her sick.

As an adult, Riley, now 58, had to quit a job she enjoyed for 10 years at Leggett & Platt Corporate Headquarters because she was sick and unable to work for 18 months.

Riley took a job teaching computers at the Carthage Tech Center and worked there for 15 years until she and her husband moved to Springfield.

It was in Springfield where an allergist put a name to her problem.

“When I came to Springfield to work, I went to an allergist in Springfield, and he told me about Alpha Gal,” Riley said. “So that was just three years ago that I found out what it actually probably was, then I found the Facebook groups about alpha gal just last year, and that's when I really started feeling better.”

One of the groups Riley found, the Alpha Gal Encouragers of Northwest Arkansas, helped her find out what was causing her symptoms and what she could safely eat.

Avoiding ticks

Jennifer Burton, the founder of the Alpha Gal Encouragers, said she suffers from the condition herself.

She said just figuring out what she could safely eat was a crap shoot with the potential for deadly consequences if she lost.

“People who have been bitten by a Lone-Star tick and have subsequently contracted AGS become allergic to common foods containing mammal, such as: (beef) hamburgers, (pork) bacon, hot dogs, milk, cheese, Gatorade, even Tic Tacs,” Burton said in a written release about the April 28 event. “Many products like cosmetics, dryer sheets, mouthwash, and hand lotions also contain mammal. Most medications such as ibuprofen, sutures, and even the flu shot, contain some material from mammal. Some people with severe AGS have even reported reactions to fumes.”

And the reactions can be deadly. Someone with Alpha Gal who eats beef or something with beef byproducts can have an anaphylactic reaction that can cause hives, severe stomach pain and swelling that can close off a person's airway and result in death.

For some with Alpha Gal, even the whiff of the fumes from cooking beef can lead to a visit to the emergency room.

Burton said the purpose of the event is to raise funds for the group and to help encourage people to take the precautions necessary to avoid tick bites.

“Since there is no cure for this, there is a chance we can go into remission, but there's no treatment, what our mantra is prevention is key,” Burton said. “If you put your sunglasses on and sun screen on to protect yourself from the sun, put your tick repellent and take precautions if you're going to have a picnic in the park or if you're going to get off on a trail. Even if you get off your bike on the trail, if you're going on a hike, if you're going camping.”