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Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that are spread to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Lyme disease can cause serious joint, heart or central nervous system problems if it is not recognized early in the disease process and treated appropriately.
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the United States, accounting for more than 95% of all cases of reported tick-borne disease. National statistics on Lyme disease are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1981 (when Lyme disease became reportable in the state) and 2005, over 32,000 cases have been reported in New Jersey. During the past 5 years, New Jersey has averaged of over 2,750 cases annually and in 2005, reported 3,363 Lyme disease cases, the highest number ever recorded in the state. Lyme disease is considered endemic in all 21 New Jersey counties.
The longer a tick remains attached to someone, the greater the chance it will be able to spread a disease-causing agent. Any attached tick should be removed as soon as possible using fine-point tweezers. The tick should not be squeezed or twisted, but grasped close to the skin and pulled straight out with steady pressure.
The removal of a tick alone does not warrant medical treatment with antibiotics. Look for the development of a red rash, which may be an early symptom of Lyme disease. Such a rash, called erythema migrans, often starts as a flat or raised red area and slowly expands over several days. It may have a partial central clearing. Be aware, however, that not all infected individuals develop a rash. Other symptoms may include fatigue, headache, neck stiffness, pain or stiffness in muscles or joints, slight fever, swollen glands, or conjunctivitis. If you have a tick bite followed by a rash or any of these other symptoms, consult your physician.
Learning how to recognize and avoid tick-infested areas is the best way of preventing exposure to ticks and tick-borne diseases. However, people working or recreating in tick-infested areas can reduce the chance of being bitten and acquiring a tick-borne disease by always following proper personal protective and prevention measures. You can reduce the number of ticks around your home by removing high grass, weeds, leaf litter, and woody undergrowth from around your home. Pesticides that kill ticks can be applied to your yard as a last resort if large numbers of ticks are present. More suggestions can be found at Protecting Your Home.