NYC: Now With 30 Percent More Syphilis!

Bloomberg's report shows a sharp spike in syphilis cases. Isn't that a disease from the era of rickets and scurvy? We investigate.


You may have missed the Mayor's management report (the what? exactly), which earlier this week unleashed a stream of generally boring city data (about things like street cleanliness and noise reports) on a populace which probably has bigger fish to fry -- like, say, panic about recession 24/7. But! The Daily News flags an uptick on two NYC fronts of note: Murder and syphilis.

Murder, we get, but syphilis? How 16th century! We're more used to reading about your web-era STDs (like chlamydia and gonorrhea) -- syphilis kind of seems like it belongs on a list with scurvy, rickets, and the plague. But if the city's reported cases are up 30 percent in a single year, we should probably educate ourselves.* So, what IS syphilis, exactly?

Fun syphilis facts, all from Wikipedia (so grain of salt and all that):

  • Its first appearance might date back as far as the 13th century - in an English monastery! Though they called them "friaries" in those days. Hmm.
  • In the 1500s, it spread like crazy among "invading armies or sea crews," what with their fondness for prostitutes.
  • Remember leprosy, a.k.a. the my-body-parts-are-dropping-off disease? Apparently, it was often just misdiagnosed syphilis. Good to know!
  • Celebrity syphilis-havers include Napoleon, Henry VIII (blame it on all those wives), Van Gogh (for whom, really, syphilis was the least of his problems), Al Capone, and Hitler!
  • It's mostly condom-preventable and treatable with penicillin. So, whew.

*Note: please don't consider a blog post a reliable source of medical information.

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