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Lyme disease has become a major problem in the Garden State, but this year things could get even worse.

Researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, have determined the regional mouse population is skyrocketing, and mice are usually the transmitters of Lyme.

“It certainly is a predictor because the white footed mouse in our region of the country generally is the mammal that carries the most Lyme disease, and transmits that to the ticks that bite people,” said Pat Smith, president of the Lyme Disease Association, headquartered in Wall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined New Jersey has the second highest total of Lyme disease cases in the nation. Pennsylvania is ranked first. So the fact that Lyme may be even more prevalent this year “is not good for our residents,” Smith said.

The official number of reported cases of Lyme disease, according to the CDC, only represents about 10 percent of the actual number of patients suffering with the disease, so while there were 4,855 officially reported cases in the Garden State in 2015, the most recent year statistics are available, we really had about 48,550 cases of Lyme.

She noted early symptoms of Lyme can include aches and pains, exhaustion, joint swelling, stiffness and fever, but if left undiagnosed or untreated an individual may get memory loss, neurological, psychological and heart problems, numbness and develop seizures.

Wood tick

She explained an exploding mouse population is significant because ticks bite small mammals.

“They pick up the disease from those mammals, and then they are able in their next feeding to pass that along to people,” she said.

“If there are a lot of these small mammals running around that have the Lyme bacteria, that increases the chances that you’re going to get bitten by a tick that is infected.”

How to check for and remove ticks

Smith says a daily self-check “is probably the most important way we have these days of protection ourselves.”

“You have to check every area of your body. There’s not an area on your body that is safe. A tick will bite you anywhere.”

Often, a tick will try to find folds and creases in the body and also around the hairline.

“Especially with children, they tend to often get ticks around their hairline and behind their ears. They will bite you anywhere,” she said.

“Oftentimes people will see a tick and they won’t realize what it is because it’s so tiny,” she said.

Also, when removing a tick, Smith said don’t touch it with your fingers.

“You should take pointed tweezers as close to the skin as possible, and pull the tick straight out. Don’t squeeze the body of the tick, don’t twist the tick, don’t put any substance on the tick, or put a hot match on the tick to try to make it back out.”

She warned if you do that, the tick can inject any of the microbes it’s carrying directly into you.

She noted ticks are now carrying Lyme as well as 18 other diseases, so “you have to be worried about any tick that bites you.”

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