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Wheat, Meat and Other Allergies

Profile: Author John Grisham’s Allergy Mystery

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On his wife developing the allergy.

“What’s odd is now Renee has the same affliction. She started about a year ago. We live on a farm – ticks everywhere. And we’re from Mississippi and never had the problem there. We moved here in ’94, and again it wasn’t a problem.

But I think the problem is being seen everywhere around here [Charlottesville]. It’s being studied and all of that. [Renee] has been through it, I would guess, four times with rashes, but nothing as uncomfortable what I’ve gone through. But she doesn’t want to do what I’ve done, so she stays away from red meat.”

On how the allergy affects day-to-day life.

“There are times when you think, boy, I’d love to have a big old steak or cheeseburger or a side of ribs or even, you know, a Bolognese pasta sauce or something like that. But you say, well, it’s not worth it.

Renee is a very healthy cook, and I’ve never had a problem with cholesterol, nor does she, or blood pressure. But it’s a whole lot lower now [laughs], cholesterol. There’s no real drawback. I could easily be a vegetarian. But my wife is also a wonderful cook. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen; we open a bottle of wine every evening about 6 and start thinking about what can we cook, or we go out. But we do eat a lot of chicken. A LOT of chicken.

[Outdoors,] we’re much more careful now. We hike all the time, through the trails. We’re much more careful with the [tick repellant] spray and spray the dogs.”

On trying to explain a tick-related allergy.

“When the article [about red-meat allergy] came out in Allergic Living magazine, I couldn’t wait to run copies and send them to all the skeptics in my life. ‘There you go, take it.’ Because the article’s perfect: this guy’s a doctor at UVA [Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills], and suddenly he’s breaking out in hives, and it’s linked to a tick, and you can’t eat red meat.

I said, ‘There it is, now get off my back.’” [Laughs]

On the worst part of his allergy.

“I guess the worst part is just having an allergy and wondering, you know, where it came from. I hope they figure this all out. I hope – maybe you can take a pill for it someday, or get some immunity …. I’ve always told [my allergist], any time you think I need to go do something – I’ll subject myself to any kind of test. If I can help out, I’m happy to. Thus this interview.”

The Doctor’s Check-Up

Allergic Living asked New York allergist Dr. Paul Ehrlich* to grade John Grisham’s allergy approach.

Top Marks: We like to say, “a good history solves the mystery.” Thanks to a master of the art for validating this point with his methodical record-keeping and observations.

Caution ahead: I’d worry that some chef may add beef or veal stock to liven up a vegetarian recipe or a braised chicken. Cross-contamination accidents do happen, and Mr. Grisham needs to be ready.

Medication use: It’s interesting that he uses Allegra – it’s slow-acting. With food allergies, most allergists recommend Benadryl. Given the severity of some of his reactions, always carrying epinephrine would be an excellent precaution.

See also: Allergic Living’s article on red meat allergy.

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*Dr. Paul Ehrlich is president of the New York Allergy & Asthma Society, a fellow of the AAAAI and the author of Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent’s Guide.

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