Friday, July 12, 2024

NJDOH, NJDEP and NJDA: Protect Yourself Against Vector-borne Diseases This Summer and Prevent Tick, Mosquito Bites

TRENTON – Each year, the start of warmer weather brings the emergence of ticks and mosquitoes and the threat of related diseases, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. The New Jersey Departments of Health (NJDOH), Environmental Protection (NJDEP), and Agriculture (NJDA) urge residents to protect themselves from these bugs for a safe and healthy summer season.

When infected blood-sucking pests (such as mosquitoes and ticks) bite someone, they can spread vector-borne illnesses.

“June 16 through 22 is National Mosquito Control Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness about infected mosquitoes that can spread West Nile and other diseases. Warming weather also increases exposure to ticks, which can result in illnesses such as Lyme disease,” said Health Commissioner Kaitlan Baston, M.D. “The best defense is to take precautions to avoid being bitten, like using effective bug spray and protective clothing, and to do regular tick checks after time in nature. Ticks should be removed as soon as possible.”

While the most commonly reported mosquito-borne disease in New Jersey is West Nile virus (WNV), Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) and Jamestown Canyon virus are also causes for concern.

People over age 50 years and those with weak immune systems are at greater risk of developing severe illness from mosquito-borne illnesses. Mild symptoms are flu-like and may include fever, headache, body aches, and sometimes a rash. Severe symptoms can include high fever, stiff neck, and swelling of the brain. There are no specific treatments or vaccines for West Nile virus. Early symptoms may be confused with COVID-19 or several other common viral illnesses, and blood tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis. The best way to prevent the disease is to take steps to avoid mosquito bites. Steps to control mosquitoes include using insect repellent and treating clothing and gear; wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants; emptying or changing outdoor standing water weekly to stop mosquito breeding, and using window and door screens.

“Summer rainstorms and warm weather create the ideal conditions for mosquitos to breed, increasing the potential for disease transmission,” said New Jersey Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette. “DEP staff works with the State Mosquito Control Commission and local mosquito control agencies to protect public health through a suite of strategies that include monitoring, management and education. It is extremely important that residents do their part to get rid of standing water in their yards to eliminate suitable habitat in which mosquito larvae can develop.”

Residents, business owners and contractors are urged to take steps to reduce mosquito populations on their properties by emptying or changing outdoor standing water at least weekly to stop mosquito breeding. Areas that may need attention include flowerpots, pet food and water dishes, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, clogged rain gutters, plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows, and any containers or trash that may be difficult to see such as under bushes, under homes or around building exteriors. Contact with mosquitoes can also be reduced by using air conditioning when possible, instead of keeping the windows open and ensuring window screens are in good repair. Refer to tips for Mosquito-Proofing your Yard for more information. Residents are also encouraged to report mosquito concerns to their county mosquito control agency.

Mosquito-borne diseases can also cause severe illness and death in horses and other livestock species. WNV and EEE affect a horse’s neurological system, which is why preventive care is encouraged.

“As the summer season fast approaches, we like to remind horse owners to have their animals vaccinated for West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis,” said Ed Wengryn, Secretary of Agriculture for New Jersey. “Vaccines offer the best protection for animals from these deadly diseases.”

Lyme disease, which can spread to people, including children, by the bite of an infected tick, can cause a variety of symptoms and can be severe if left untreated. In general, ticks must be attached for more than 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease. Symptoms can include a rash that looks like a bullseye, tiredness, fever, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches, and joint pain. If left untreated, infected individuals may develop arthritis and problems with the nervous system and heart. Antibiotic therapy is generally effective with early treatment, which is why residents are encouraged to check themselves, and children in their care, carefully for ticks after spending time outdoors and be on the lookout for symptoms – especially if they recently spent time outdoors or found a tick on themselves – and consult a health care provider if they have symptoms. Learn more about tickborne diseases.

Other common tick-borne diseases found in New Jersey are Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan and Spotted Fever Group Rickettsioses, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. To help prevent disease, individuals should avoid wooded areas with dense shrubs and leaf litter, wear protective clothing, use EPA-registered insect repellents, perform tick checks, and keep lawns and shrubs trimmed.

For information on vector-borne disease cases, visit the Vector-borne Disease Data Dashboard.

For more information on vector-borne diseases, visit fightthebite.nj.gov, NJDOH’s West Nile Virus webpage, NJDEP’s mosquito control webpage, and the NJDA’s Animal Health webpage