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Pork-cat syndrome a rare (but real!) allergy

Allergic to cats? Then beware of pigs -- or at least, the meat that comes from these sty-dwelling swine. A small number of people who are sensitive to felines may also get allergic reactions to eating pork.

Dubbed "pork-cat syndrome," this food-induced allergic reaction can occur after consuming pork in people who are also allergic to cats, says Jonathon Posthumus, MD, a fellow in the division of asthma, allergy and immunology at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville.

Although this rare syndrome was first recognized in Europe in the mid-1990s, Posthumus and his colleagues recently described the first six documented cases of it in the U.S. He presented his preliminary findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

According to Posthumus, the true allergen in people with pork-cat syndrome is albumin, a protein that's found in both cat dander and in pork meat. When albumin is consumed in a pork-containing meal it can trigger an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.

But not all people who are allergic to cat dander are sensitive to cat albumin. So, most cat-allergic individuals would probably not have reactions to pork. 

In this research, five out of six cases of pork-cat syndrome were seen in women, and the average age of those with this rare food sensitivity was 28. Blood tests were positive for cat dander and pork antibodies in all six people.

Following a meal containing pork, one person reported having an itchy mouth, three broke out in hives, and two had anaphylaxis, a severe and sometimes life-threatening allergic reaction. 

People with this syndrome may also develop swelling of the mouth, lips or tongue, and these same areas could become itchy after consuming pork products. Posthumus suspects the reaction may be related to how much pork is on your plate, but he says, there is no way to determine the threshold amount that triggers these symptoms.

Those diagnosed with this unusual food hypersensitivity are advised to steer clear of eating pork, and told what signs to look for and treatments to seek if they accidentally slip-up.

The UVA scientists discovered the country's first reported cases while researching people with meat allergies. Perhaps pork-cat syndrome has been under-recognized in the U.S. because "it can easily be missed if the patient is not properly evaluated and the relationship to cat allergy is not appreciated," Posthumus points out.

Readers, if you've ever experienced these strange sensations after eating pork, we have to hear about it. Leave us a comment telling us your story.