Lyme Disease Cases in NJ Expected to Soar as Tick Population Reaches Unprecented Numbers in 2019

In 2017, 3,629 New Jersey residents contracted lyme disease.  Experts expect that number this year to reach new heights.  Rainy weather and a mild winter are expected to contribute to the surge in New Jersey’s already high tick population this year.  The Garden State has the second highest number of reported Lyme disease cases in the United States and is home to at least four species of ticks that are known to spread disease.  The deer tick, the brown dog tick, the American dog tick, and the Lone Star tick are found throughout New Jersey and are responsible for the spread of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and various other diseases.  Several invasive species of tick have also begun to take up residence in the state and are likely to see increasing numbers.

The crisis has prompted a first of its kind tick surveillance program led by a team at Rutgers University.  According to Dina Fonseca, director for the Center of Vector Biology at Rutgers, ticks are a year-round problem.  She explains, “You can get ticks in January and you can get bit by infected lines of Lyme bacterium-infected ticks in November, December, January, February, etc.”  Rutgers University and the CDC have provided the following warnings regarding New Jersey’s tick infestation:

  • 11 species of tick, including two invasive species, have been confirmed in New Jersey based on collected specimens.
  • Five additional species of ticks have been reported in New Jersey but not yet confirmed, though they have been confirmed in nearby states.
  • The Asian tick was confirmed in several New Jersey counties last year.  This tick species is especially harmful to livestock while also being capable of spreading disease to humans.
  • The Gulf Coast tick and at least one other invasive species are spreading their habitat northward and are expected to eventually reach New Jersey.
  • The Rutgers team hopes to develop a standard tick surveillance program to accurately assess the disease threat in New Jersey.  Dina Fonseca notes, “Spring’s coming.  We need to be prepared.” 

After hatching from eggs, ticks need to feed on host blood at every development stage.  They range in size from less than a millimeter across in the larvae stage up to about five millimeters across unfed, and 10 millimeters after feeding.  They can detect breath, body odor, body heat, moisture and vibration as they lay in wait for their prey.  And according to the CDC, “Some species can even recognize a shadow.  In addition, ticks pick a place to wait by identifying well-used paths.  Then they wait for a host, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs.” 

Avoiding tall grass, heavily wooded areas, and thick vegetation can help to reduce the potential for exposure to ticks.  It is always a good idea to check oneself for ticks after being outdoors and to be especially vigilant in checking children and pets.  If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible using fine-tipped tweezers.  Pull straight up with steady, even pressure to ensure that part of the tick doesn’t break off and remain embedded in the skin.  After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.  You may also want to submit the tick for testing, in which case you should place the tick in a sealable bag or container.

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Date: 04-11-2019