Syphilis is called the "French Disease" by the Germans, the "German Disease" by the French and the "Polish Disease" by the Russians. Per some theories, the disease was the boon companion of European exploration (do I mean exploitation?) of the Americas. For the last 60 years the disease was on the wane in America but a strange thing happened on our way to economic ruin and recovery: the bacteria rebounded.
According to MSNBC, parts of North Carolina, Forsyth County to be exact, are elbow deep in the Syph. No worries, though—big retail came to the rescue. Read: How Wal-Mart Gift Cards Help Solve An STD Outbreak
How did this happen? The theory is that economically depressed areas are more likely to suffer STD outbreaks. Dr. C. Timothy Monroe, director of the Forsyth County Department of Public Health, indicates that during dark times people are more willing to do unsafe things to make ends meet. Things like having sex for cash or drugs. Read: America Sets New Personal Record For STDs
In addition to "risky behavior," many people in depressed areas have limited access to health care. Though unemployment is part of that problem, some rural areas also face shortcomings in health care even during times of prosperity. And though syphilis can generally be defeated with a bit of penicillin, you'd have to imagine that both shame and under-education keep people from seeking medical care.
I'm not picking on rural areas, though—plenty of folks in the metro don't know that symptoms of syph (there are four stages, each with different symptoms; learn about them here) can seemingly disappear while the disease remains dormant. And as far as shame goes, think about how guilty you feel when the doctor asks you if you consume more than 14 alcoholic beverages in a week… and now add unprotected sex (for drugs or money) with a stranger to that equation.
Per CDC figures, syphilis cases US-wide have nearly doubled between 2000 and 2007. MSNBC's Brian Alexander says that half of the total cases are in the South (leaving the other half for the East, West, North and Middle, one would guess). For anyone planning on doing a little seasonal travel, I'd like to point out that the syphilis problem is not why we call it the Dirty South or the Dirty Dirty. But if you are visiting Myrtle Beach, SC on vacay, it's a good plan to use a condom if hooking up with a complete stranger… in the same way it's a really good idea to do the same if you're getting frisky with a stranger from New York, Chicago or Wasilla, Alaska. The Condom Commandments