Lyme Disease afflicts thousands of people in New Jersey alone and Congressman Chris Smith wants to see prevention, research and treatment for the debilitating disease increased.

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Speaking in Wall Township Tuesday, Representative Smith was joined by Pat Smith, president of the Lyme Disease Association, and other experts and government officials to speak about the dangers of the tick-borne disease.

Smith's bills, HR 610 and 611 would authorize $20 million per year for five years on new research of detection and treatments of Lyme disease, as well as establish a blue ribbon advisory committee to bring more input and scrutiny to the subject.

New Jersey ranks third highest in reported cases of Lyme Disease, behind Pennsylvania and New York, and the reported numbers are nowhere near as high as they actually are, according to Pat Smith.

"The CDC and others have indicated that the disease is probably under-reported by a factor of ten," Smith explains. "So, for example in 2011, New Jersey had about 4,200 cases. In actuality they could have had 42,000 cases."

The LDA association head says one of the biggest issues is reporting methods are often very inaccurate, many of which must fall under strict federal or state guidelines. A major problem when Lyme Disease's symptoms are very broad and varying and the tests decidedly inaccurate, often mimicking symptoms of multiple scoliosis, ALS, lupus, fatigue, ADD, Alzheimer and even autism.

"There is really not a test that will pick up enough of the cases, this test that they have picks up less than 50 percent of the cases. This is not a good screening test for Lyme."

Symptoms of Lyme Disease can include:

  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain

However, if left untreated they can quickly escalate into Bells Palsy, neurological, and heart conditions. Smith says memory loss, confusions, and even drops in IQ were reported in later stages of the disease.

That creates issues with diagnosing the disease, according to Smith, who notes doctors often have to rely on clinical judgment based on experience. A situation which poses risks for the physicians.

"Medical boards unfortunately sometimes don't look kindly at doctors going outside of what they consider to be 'mainstream medicine.'"

Ticks, the primary carrier of the disease, are incredibly common in the Garden State and become more active in temperatures about 35 degrees.

While the adult ticks, which are seen in the fall time, are more likely to carry Lyme (and a host of other diseases), it's during the spring when the nymph stage of the insects life where they are most active in feeding.

In order to transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, a tick must be attached for a minimum of 36 hours. Therefore, it is important to properly remove a tick from the skin within 36 hours of being bitten in order to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

If you find a tick, here's what to do:

  • Use fine-pointed tweezers.
  • Grasp the tick's mouth parts close to the skin.
  • Apply steady outward pressure
  • Do not use petroleum jelly, noxious chemicals, or hot objects to remove ticks. Improper removal can increase the chances of infection.

Smith says prevention is key, however residents can also protect themselves from tick bites by:

  • Avoiding tick-infested areas such as tall grass and dense vegetation.
  • Keeping grass cut and underbrush thinned in yards.
  • Ensuring areas under bird feeders are clean to avoid attracting deer and other mammals.
  • Keeping picnic tables, swing sets and other recreation equipment away from woods.
  • Following directions carefully if lawn chemicals are used for tick control.