We’d like to be able to tell you we have good news about tick season this year. But we can’t. Because we don’t. Word on the street is that ticks are out in full force already this summer and as the summer gets warmer, it’s only going to get worse. But never fear, Bergen County, we’ve got your back. Read on for our field guide to Ticks in NJ and what you need to know to keep your family safe and tick-free this summer.
First the bad news. According to the CDC, cases of reported illnesses from ticks, mosquitoes and fleas have tripled in the US in the past decade. Reasons for this include warmer weather creating more hospitable living conditions for ticks, expanded human travel, more trees and deer in suburban areas and a lack of new treatments being developed to combat these ticks.
Now the worse news. Those pesky arachnids (they’re not insects!) have added a few things to their bag of tricks:
POW (Powassan) Virus. You remember this one from last year, right?
Heartland Virus. Signs and symptoms of infection are similar to those of other tick borne infections and can include fever, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and diarrhea. There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat Heartland virus infections. The best defense against Heartland Disease is to avoid getting bitten by a tick.
East Asian Tick. New Jersey has long been home to at least 5 species of ticks (as if one wasn’t enough). But a new species of tick was recently identified in New Jersey. Called the East Asian, alias Longhorned or Bush tick is an Asian import and no one seems to know how it got here. Additionally, these little dudes were not reliably killed through the usual methods. Nor did they die out during the winter freeze. This tick has been found as close to Bergen County as the Watchung Reservation in Union County. And they can carry SFTS (Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome) a disease that results in low platelet counts and many of the same symptoms as the Lyme or Heartland Virus. So that’s not great.
But according to Dr. Ashwin Jathavadem, Chief of Infectious Disease at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, we don't need to panic yet. We just need to "use the same precautions this summer that you would use any other summer."
Okay, so what do we do?
Preventing Tick Bites. The best line of defense against tick-borne illnesses is not to get bitten in the first place. The Lyme Center in the Rheumatology department at Johns Hopkins suggests these tactics for staying tick bite free:
1. Create a tick free zone around your home. Keep grass short and install deer fencing.
2. Be safe outside. Avoid wooded areas, stay on paths when hiking, keep out of tall grasses.
3. Protect yourself. Wear long sleeves and pants, dark colors and use insect repellent with DEET (Permethrin on clothes)
4. Check for ticks. Perform a thorough tick check of all outdoor adventurers within two hours of being back inside.
5. Remove any ticks you find. Found a tick? Get it off the right way.
Ugh. But you (or your kid) got bit. You’ve gotta get that bugger off. Use this CDC approved method for removing that tick before it does any damage.
And then, you watch and wait. Look for these indicators that you’ve become infected. And go see your doctor immediately if you start to feel ill or if you see a rash.
Also, don’t panic. Be smart, enjoy your summer and just keep telling yourself that people get bitten by ticks every day and most of them experience no adverse effects. No really, it will be okay!