Tick season is upon us in New Jersey. The wet winter and moist spring means dense vegetation in woods, fields and even backyards, all where ticks can thrive.

May, June and July are when ticks start emerging, exposing people to potential tick borne diseases, according to Dr. Christina Tan, state epidemiologist for the Health Department.

But there are a number of things people can do to avoid being bitten by ticks.

Know where they like to hang out

"Avoid being in tick habitats as much as possible. So for example, when you're out hiking, try to remain on the trails. Avoid the dense vegetation, such as the shrubs and the bushes, where the ticks might be hiding.

Lawns should be mowed short to make them less attractive to ticks and animals that can transport them.

Cover up and spray

"Also, when you're outside, keep your skin covered as much as possible. For example, wear the long sleeves, tuck the long pants into your socks, and we suggest wearing light-colored clothing because it's easier to spot the ticks on your body," Tan said.

It's also important to use insect repellents with DEET for skin and permethrin for clothing and gear.

Pets get them, too

Pets should be treated for ticks to avoid having them carry the ticks inside the home. Regular tick checks are important, especially after being outdoors for long periods.

Getting ticks off you

"Make sure that you check for ticks often when you're outdoors, and when your indoors, check various parts of your body where ticks may hide, such as the scalp, behind the ears, armpit and groin," Tan said.

Tan suggests using fine-tip tweezers to pull off ticks.

"You want to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and you don't want to really twist or jerk the tick because what could happen is that this could potentially cause the mouthpiece of the tick to break off and remain in the skin.

"So, when you actually grab the tick close to the skin, with one motion, gently pull straight up until all parts of the tick are removed.

"After you remove the tick, clean the skin with soap and warm water," Tan said.

Dangerous diseases

Tan pointed out that there are several tick-borne diseases in New Jersey.

"Lyme disease is one bacterial illness that we are concerned about. It's spread by the deer tick, which is pretty prevalent in New Jersey.

"We're also concerned about babesiosis, which is a parasite disease that's caused by ticks as well, and we've also had rare occurrences of this virus called powassan that had been reported in recent years. So preventing tick bites and tick exposures will help prevent again all of these tick borne diseases," Tan said.

Tan advises consulting with a physician if you think you may have been bitten by a tick or are exhibiting symptoms of a tick-borne disease.

Symptoms of tick-borne disease can include a bull's-eye skin rash, tiredness, fever or chills, headaches, stick neck, muscle aches, joint pain and dizziness.

More information about tick prevention and tick borne diseases can be found at www.nj.gov/health.

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