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In 2017, the number of reported cases of tick-borne Lyme disease in New Jersey reached its highest in nearly two decades.

As the days wane during May, which is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, officials in New Jersey worry that the trend is on the rise. Last year, 5,092 cases were reported across New Jersey, the highest since 2000 and a 17 percent increase from the 4,349 reported cases in 2016.

On Monday, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and state Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal visited Mountain Way Park in Parsippany to publicize efforts aimed at awareness and prevention of Lyme disease.

“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.”

According to WABC TV, Menendez successfully fought for additional federal resources in the recent spending bill that was signed into law, including $8 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a $900 million increase over fiscal year 2017, and an additional $3 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which includes the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that conducts research on Lyme disease.

Lyme disease, the most commonly reported vectorborne illness in the U.S., is caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of infected deer ticks. The disease is most prevalent in the Northeast and upper Midwest, and it is the fastest growing infectious disease in America. Lyme disease symptoms include chills, fever, bull’s-eye rash, headache and muscle pain, but advanced stages of the disease 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,” 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.”

Experts advise those who go into woods or high grass to wear insect repellent with DEET, and to thoroughly check yourself for ticks afterward. Also make a habit of protecting and checking your pets.

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