Around 2% of Americans are estimated to be allergic to shrimp and other shellfish. Those with allergies experience a variety of symptoms after consuming shrimp ranging from mild to severe.
Shrimp belong to the Class Crustacea, the Class most closely related to insects. Do people with shellfish allergy commonly cross react to insects? This question is of increasing importance as insects become a more common ingredient in human diets.
A group of scientists* evaluated 15 people with shellfish allergy for cross reaction to proteins in mealworms, Tenebrio molitor. All 15 tested positive in a skin prick assay and 13 of 15 had confirmed allergy to mealworm. Specific proteins triggering an allergic reaction were tropomyosin and arginine kinase. Additional proteins, not yet characterized, also trigger allergic reactions. Foods containing mealworm products should be labeled so that those with shrimp allergies can avoid them.
*Henrike Broekman, Kitty C. Verhoeckx, Constance F. den Hartog Jager, Astrid G. Kruizinga, Marieke Pronk-Kleinjan, Benjamin C. Remington, Carla A. Bruijnzeel-Koomen, Geert F. Houben, André C. Knulst, Majority of shrimp-allergic patients are allergic to mealworm, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 137: 1261-1263.