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Changes in the Spatial Distribution of Syphilis


Public health officials and epidemiologists have been attempting to eradicate syphilis for decades, but national incidence rates are again on the rise. It has been suggested that the syphilis epidemic in the US is a "rare example of unforced, endogenous oscillations in disease incidence, with an 8-11-yr period that is predicted by the natural dynamics of syphilis infection, to which there is partially protective immunity." While the time series of aggregate case counts seems to support this claim, between 1990 and 2010 there seems to have been a significant change in the spatial distribution of the syphilis epidemic. It is unclear if this change can also be attributed to "endogenous" factors or whether it is due to exogenous factors such as behavioral changes (e.g., the widespread use of the internet for anonymous sexual encounters). For example, it is pointed out that levels of syphilis in 1989 were abnormally high in counties in North Carolina (NC) immediately adjacent to highways. The hypothesis was that this may be due truck drivers and prostitution, and/or the emerging cocaine market. Our results indicate that syphilis distribution in NC has changed since 1989, diffusing away from highway counties.



To study the spatial distribution of syphilis at the county level for specific states and nationally, and to determine how this might have changed over time in order to improve disease surveillance.

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