As many as 44,000 New Jerseyans became new victims of a tickborne disease in 2018.

Experts in the Garden State are referring to Lyme and other illnesses transmitted by the bite of an infected tick as an exploding health risk. The main problems, they say — more of these pests are calling New Jersey home, and a plan to attack them is lacking.

"It's becoming very problematic," said Pat Smith, president of Lyme Disease Association, located in Wall Twp. "The medical profession — they don't necessarily understand how many diseases are really here, and how they need to be treated."

This gap in knowledge, she said, can be blamed on the fact that the deer tick, the species responsible for transmitting Lyme, is one just several species calling New Jersey home. The presence of the Lone Star tick and the American dog tick, for example, is concerning experts.

"These all seem to be increasing in numbers, and each of those carries and transmits different diseases," Smith said, noting the threat exists all year-round, not just during the warmer months.

While not yet proven to transmit diseases in the U.S., the invasive longhorned tick was first spotted in New Jersey in mid-2017, and has been found in multiple counties since.

Smith was one of the featured speakers at a Congressional town meeting hosted by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) on May 29 in Wall. "Lyme Diseases: Research, Treatment, and the Path Forward" was attended by more than 200 members of the public.

"More must be done to mitigate and over time eradicate this catastrophic disease," Rep. Smith said of Lyme.

Smith is founding and co-chair of the Congressional Lyme Disease Caucus, and has authored more than a dozen bills on fighting the illness, focusing on the need for a national strategy.

From 1990 to 2017, the Garden State had 77,259 cases of Lyme reported by CDC. But the agency estimates the actual quantity of cases could be 10 times that amount. In 2017, New Jersey's 5,092 reported cases ranked third-highest in the United States.

Preliminary numbers from the New Jersey Department of Health point to 4,400 confirmed and probably tickborne disease cases in 2018. Lyme represents 86% of the cases.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.