PARSIPPANY, NJ – With Lyme disease cases rising at alarming rates across New Jersey, US Sen. Bob Menendez and State Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal visited Mountain Way Park in Parsippany on Wednesday to discuss efforts to stem the tide–and to raise awareness.
Recently updated data from the state Department of Health show the highest number of reported Lyme disease cases in New Jersey in nearly two decades, with Morris County topping the list, and new records set in ten of the state’s 21 counties.
"Lyme disease is at a 17-year high in New Jersey," Menendez said. "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."
Lyme disease affects 300,000 people nationwide, affecting three times more people since 20 years ago. We need a better understanding of Lyme disease, Menendez said, a better way to test for Lyme disease and aggressive strategies to prevent the spread of tick-borne infections.
"5,000 cases of Lyme disease diagnosed in New Jersey last year–the highest since the year 2000, with the highest rate in Morris County," Elnahal said.
This year, New Jersey saw a 17 percent jump from the 4,349 cases it reported in 2016. Last year, Morris County outpaced all others with a record high 650 cases.
John Halperin, MD, medical director of Atlantic Neuroscience Institute and chair of the department of neurosciences at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, described Lyme disease as a bacterial infection.
"It turns out the way the tick infects us is by staying attached to us for several days, and in the course of doing that injecting the organisms into us," he said. "So in reality the tick has to be attached for 24 to 48 hours before you’re at serious risk of Lyme disease," he said.
Lyme disease can be effectively treated if it is detected early. Halperin said it can be avoided even if the tick has already attached.
If untreated, Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms. It can be cured with a round of antibiotics, especially with an early diagnosis. In severe cases, it spreads infections throughout the heart and nervous system. The deer tick is most common carrier of this disease in New Jersey, and it's active throughout summer, spring and fall.
"May, June and July–so right now–are the peak months for transmission of tick-borne illness," Elnahal said.
The state is warning residents, especially those with children and pets, to take preventive measures.
Below is the full county breakdown (*indicates new record high):
- Morris County: 650*
- Essex County: 207
- Union County: 110*
- Bergen County: 303*
- Sussex County: 331
- Atlantic County: 66
- Burlington County: 227
- Camden County: 159*
- Cape May County: 22
- Cumberland County: 99
- Gloucester County: 124
- Hudson County: 72*
- Hunterdon County: 444
- Mercer County: 222
- Middlesex County: 321*
- Monmouth County: 550*
- Ocean County: 302*
- Passaic County: 165
- Salem County: 45
- Somerset County: 280*
- Warren County: 393*
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