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A Lone Star Tick on a leaf. Credit Judy Gallagher

A collaboration between researchers at the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and the Thurston Arthritis Research Center’s Core Center for Clinical Research, investigated the relationship between a red meat allergy, caused from a tick bite known as alpha-gal syndrome, and knee pain. The paper, titled “Tick-borne disease infections and chronic musculoskeletal pain,” was published in JAMA Network Open.

Using a multi-disciplinary approach to analyze radiographic osteoarthritis, questionnaires, physical assessments, and biospecimens, the team asked whether tick-borne diseases were associated with chronic musculoskeletal symptoms. The study found a high prevalence of tick-borne disease exposure in the Johnston County, NC population, as well as a high frequency of alpha-gal IgE positivity. Only alpha-gal IgE levels were associated with knee symptoms of pain, aching, and stiffness. Interestingly, symptomatic radiographic knee osteoarthritis was not statistically associated with alpha-gal IgE or evidence of tick-borne infection; however, higher levels of alpha-gal IgE were associated with increased knee pain severity score.

This unique study demonstrates the connection between osteoarthritis (OA), allergy, and immunology research. Data from the population-based Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project (JoCoOA), as well as statistical support from the UNC Core Center for Clinical Research (CCCR) was leveraged for this study, underlining the intersecting resources made available at TARC.

Click here to read the full article available on the JAMA Network website.

Investigators involved in the study include: Diana Zychowski, Haley Abernathy, Dana Giandomenico, Ross Boyce, Carolina Alvarez, Shailesh Choudhary, Julia Vorobiov, Amanda Nelson, and Scott Commins.