Southeast Michigan’s Genesee county is experiencing an outbreak of syphilis. The largest city in the county is Flint, made (in)famous in Michael Moore’s film Roger and Me.

Syphilis is a nasty sexually transmitted disease with an interesting history. It may have originated in the New World. It was the subject of the infamous “Tuskegee Experiment”. It has enough different symptoms that it is sometimes called “the great imitator”.

In 2007 there were 15 reported cases in the county; so far in 2008, there are 33. According to the county health department:

Certain risk behaviors that increase the likelihood of contracting syphilis have been associated with this outbreak. These include having unprotected sex with multiple partners and participating in the exchange of sex for drugs or money. Transmission of syphilis is also being seen among men who have sex with men in Genesee County.

About 13% of the county’s population is below the poverty line, and in Flint the number is over 26 percent. This is not a coincidence.

As Michigan’s economy has continued to circle the drain, educational and health care systems have be strained and broken. Without access to information, jobs, and hope, STDs flourish.

I received the notification in an email with the presumption that the outbreak is headed my way. As Michigan continues to suffer, we’ll see what walks in the door here. I’ll let you know.


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