Following a year in which New Jersey saw the highest number of reported Lyme disease cases since 2000, officials have outlined the efforts in place to hopefully stem the tide.

Close to 5,100 cases of the tick-borne illness were reported in New Jersey in 2017 — a 17 percent jump from the year prior. New records were set in 10 of the state's 21 counties.

"Last year, Morris and Hunterdon counties were hit hardest ... so we came to their aid and worked closely with them," state Department of Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal told New Jersey 101.5 following a press conference on Lyme disease.

"The most important thing we do is collaborate closely with county and local health officials who are out front doing this work, closest to the ground and to the front lines," Elnahal said.

As part of Lyme Disease Awareness Month, the DOH homepage is linked to the department's video on prevention. Online educational materials also include a FAQ page and tips on how to remove a tick from your body.

"Obviously if you take the precautions, don't get bit in the first place, you can avoid all of the problems that come from that," Elnahal said.

Early symptoms may resemble those of various diseases, which could make detection a challenge. A ring-shaped rash, evident in 60 to 80 percent of people infected with Lyme disease, is commonly accompanied by fatigue, fever, headache, joint pain and muscle aches.

If untreated, the disease could lead to arthritis, heart problems and nervous system problems weeks to months later.

"Today, Lyme disease affects at least 300,000 people nationwide; the number of diagnoses has tripled over the past 20 years," New Jersey U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said at the Monday morning press event. "Some scientists believe climate change is a factor here."

Menendez said local, state and federal officials must ramp up efforts to combat the spread of tick-borne illnesses.

"We need to get a better understanding of Lyme disease, we need more effective ways to test for Lyme disease, and above all we need more aggressive strategies to prevent the spread of tick-borne infections," he said.

Sen. Menendez has led the effort to increase funding for the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement to assist officials with their response to Lyme and other infectious diseases. Leading up to the recent signing of a bipartisan spending plan, the senator fought for billions of dollars worth of additional federal resources to respond to Lyme disease, such as a funding increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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