Health officials in New Jersey are warning individuals of a possible life-threatening disease spread by deer ticks.
Babesiosis is a malaria-like, tick-borne illness that infects red blood cells. So far this year, five cases of the ailment have been reported in Atlantic County, six cases have been confirmed and five are suspected in Ocean County.
At this time last year, eight cases were reported in Ocean County with a total of 15 confirmed by year's end.
Matt Myers, a service manager for Ross Environmental Solutions, is concerned about those numbers.
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“We’ve had ticks, but it seems to be a big surge this year,” he said.
Babesiosis is spread by the deer tick, which sometimes can be as small as a poppy seed. That's the same tick that spreads Lyme Disease.
“The focus is tended to be on Lyme Disease, Jennifer Crawford from the Ocean County Health Department said. We wanted to really put the message out there that Lyme Disease is not the only concern.
Babesiosis can be life-threatening. Most at risk are the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and those without a spleen.
“It’s especially concerning for women who are pregnant because they can pass the parasite on to their babies,” said Crawford.
Symptoms are flu-like and can include fever, chills, head and body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue.
It can take one to four weeks after a tick bite for symptoms of babesiosis to show, but experts say many people who become infected may never have any symptoms at all.
Experts urge people to check themselves for ticks after spending time outdoors. Officials from the OCHD urge individuals bitten by a tick to consult a medical professional and test for the disease.
Myers says a well-manicured lawn helps keep ticks away.
“Ticks don’t survive very well in extreme heat,” he said, “so if you have a very low lawn, they’re not going to be able to survive.”