PARSIPPANY, New Jersey (WABC) -- There are growing concerns about Lyme disease in New Jersey after the Garden State saw the highest number of reported cases in nearly two decades last year, and now, officials want to get the word out ways you can protect yourself and your family.
There were more than 5,000 reported cases reported in the state, with Morris County seeing the most, and health experts are worried the trend is still on the rise.
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and with summer on the horizon, officials say education and early detection are key.
Senator Bob Menendez and state Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal visited Mountain Way Park in Parsippany Monday to discuss efforts to stem the tide and to raise awareness.
"With school winding down, summer on the horizon and us spending more time outdoors, we need an all-hands on-deck effort to combat the growing spread of Lyme disease," Menendez said. "It starts with ensuring our children and families can afford to see a doctor and have access to quality health care, because early detection is key. But we also need to gain a better understanding of Lyme disease, more effective ways to test for it, and above all else, we need more aggressive strategies to prevent the spread of tick-borne infections."
Menendez successfully fought for additional federal resources in the recent bipartisan spending package that was signed into law, including $8 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a $900 million increase over FY17, and an additional $3 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which houses the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) that conducts Lyme research.
He also led the effort to increase funding for the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement to assist state and local response to Lyme and other infectious diseases.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of infected deer ticks. It is the most commonly reported vectorborne illness in the U.S. and is most-prevalent in the Northeast and upper Midwest, and it is the fastest growing infectious disease in the nation. Symptoms include chills, fever, bull's-eye rash, headache, and muscle pain, but advanced stages of Lyme can affect the central nervous system, heart and joints.
"May, June and July are the peak months for tick-borne disease because that is when immature ticks that are small and less likely to be detected are in our wooded and high grass areas," Dr. Elnahal said. "So as we approach Memorial Day weekend, when more of us will be enjoying parks like this one to hike and play with our kids, it is important for parents to remember to perform daily tick checks on their children, their pets and themselves."
If you go into woods or high grass, be sure to wear insect repellent with DEET, and check yourself from head-to-toe afterward. Also make sure to protect and check your pets.
There were 5,092 reported cases of Lyme Disease last year across New Jersey, the highest since 2000 and a 17 percent increase from the 4,349 reported cases in 2016. Morris County outpaced all others with a record-high 650 cases in 2017. Here is the full county breakdown (* indicates new record-high):
--ATLANTIC COUNTY 66
--BERGEN COUNTY 303*
--BURLINGTON COUNTY 227
--CAMDEN COUNTY 159*
--CAPE MAY COUNTY 22
--CUMBERLAND COUNTY 99
--ESSEX COUNTY 207
--GLOUCESTER COUNTY 124
--HUDSON COUNTY 72*
--HUNTERDON COUNTY 444
--MERCER COUNTY 222
--MIDDLESEX COUNTY 321*
--MONMOUTH COUNTY 550*
--MORRIS COUNTY 650*
--OCEAN COUNTY 302*
--PASSAIC COUNTY 165
--SALEM COUNTY 45
--SOMERSET COUNTY 280*
--SUSSEX COUNTY 331
--UNION COUNTY 110*
--WARREN COUNTY 393*