By: Richard L. Smith/
With the start of the summer season and the kickoff of National Mosquito Control Awareness Week on June 18, the New Jersey Departments of Health (NJDOH), Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and Agriculture (NJDA) are urging residents to protect themselves from mosquitos ticks and related vector-borne diseases.
When infected blood-sucking insects (such as mosquitoes and ticks) bite someone, they can spread vector-borne illnesses such as West Nile Virus and Lyme disease. The best defense against these vector-borne illnesses is to avoid being bitten by these insects.
"A bite from a tick or mosquito can cause illnesses that can be severe for some people," said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. "Individuals can take simple steps to protect themselves and to ensure a healthy and safe summer."
West Nile virus (WNV) is the most commonly reported mosquito-borne disease in New Jersey, but Eastern Equine encephalitis (EEE) and Jamestown Canyon virus are also of concern.
For many people, these viral infections may be asymptomatic or cause a mild to moderate illness, typically with a fever, headache, and fatigue.
Rarely, infections may progress and cause a severe neurological illness, which may present as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis (inflammation of the lining covering the brain and spinal cord), or acute flaccid paralysis (sudden onset of focal weakness or paralysis).
Older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of developing severe illness, and persons who recover from severe neurological illness often have lingering effects. There are no human vaccines against these viral diseases and no specific treatment.
Early symptoms may be confused with COVID-19 or several other common viral illnesses, and blood tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis.
"The DEP urges New Jersey residents to spend time outdoors this summer to prevent tick and mosquito bites, which can transmit harmful diseases.
Prevent tick bites by wearing repellents, avoiding wooded areas with tall grass, wearing light-colored long-sleeved shirts and pants, and performing frequent tick checks," said Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette.
"New Jersey residents can stop the proliferation of mosquitos in their yards by removing any standing water and covering any empty containers that can hold water for more than three days."
Residents, business owners and contractors are asked 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, 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.
Lyme disease, caused by bacteria carried by ticks, can cause a variety of symptoms and can be severe if left untreated.
It is spread to people by the bite of an infected tick, and symptoms can include a rash that looks like a bulls-eye, tiredness, fever, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches, and joint pain. If left untreated, infected persons 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 be on the lookout for symptoms – especially if they recently spent time outdoors or found a tick on themselves – and consult a doctor if symptoms arise.
Other common tick-borne diseases in New Jersey include Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan and Spotted Fever Group Rickettsioses, and 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 trim lawns and shrubs.
People susceptible to 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.
"We strongly urge horse owners to vaccinate their animals from serious mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis," said NJDA Secretary Douglas H. Fisher.
"We have found that vaccinated animals are less likely to contract these deadly diseases."