PARSIPPANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — New data shows the number of people with Lyme disease in New Jersey is the highest its been in nearly two decades.

Morris County tops the list with 650 reported cases just last year. As we head into Memorial Day Weekend with families set to spend more time outdoors, officials are reminding people of how to better protect themselves from the debilitating disease.

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Jim Oleske and his wife, Barbara, enjoy bringing their granddaughter to Mountain Way Park in Parsippany but realize the risk of playing near the woods.

They say they take extra precautions knowing it’s tick season.

“We are very careful, we watch her, check her, make sure she doesn’t have any ticks on her,” the Morris County grandfather tells CBS2.

With summer on the horizon, most people will spend more time outdoors. Officials say prevention is key. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says it’s imperative that all levels of government work together to combat the tick-borne illness.

“We need to get a better understanding of Lyme disease, we need more effective ways to test for Lyme disease, and above all more aggressive strategies to prevent the spread of tick-borne infections,” Menendez said.

There were more than 5,000 reported cases of Lyme disease last year across New Jersey — a 17 percent jump from the previous year which doctors attribute to longer, hotter summers.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal says to always check for ticks within two hours of being outside. That includes your children and pets.

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“Check yourself before showers, looking in the mirror and have someone assist you,” Elnahal said.

So why is it so important to check yourself?

“The way ticks infect use is by staying attached for several days,” Dr. John Halperin from Overlook Medical Center said. “In the course of doing that and injecting the organism into us, it’s 24 to 48 hours before you’re at serious risk for Lyme disease.”

Officials warn to limit your exposure to tall grass and apply repellent that’s approved by the Environmental Protection Agency on your skin, boots, and clothing.

Also, wear light colored clothing so the tiny insects are easier to spot and tuck your pants into your socks.

If you find a tick, carefully remove it with fine point tweezers.

“Gasp it by the mouth parts and apply outward pressure to remove the tick,” Dr. Elnahal said.

Doctors say symptoms can take anywhere from three to 30 days to show, and the most common symptoms to look for are a rash that resembles a bullseye, flu symptoms, tiredness, a headache, and a fever.

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If caught early, the disease is treatable with three to four weeks of antibiotics.