Dermatologists decry monkeypox stigma for people with skin lesions

Lilly Simon

Dermatology professional groups are calling on the public to stop filming and shaming people with skin conditions by questioning whether they have monkeypox.

The British Association of Dermatologists has condemned a recent trend of pictures being shared online of people with skin conditions such as eczema, alongside thoughtless monkeypox speculation.

“It is concerning to see pictures of people with rashes or skin conditions go viral due to thoughtless speculation about monkeypox,” said President Dr Mabs Chowdhury.

“It adds to the stigma around the disease, which is enormously unhelpful; it is also the sort of thing that adds to the psychological burden of people living with a visible skin condition.

In one case, a woman with neurofibromatosis type 1, told of how she was horrified to discover that she had been secretly filmed by a stranger while on a train and the footage posted online with question marks about whether her visible skin lesions were due to monkeypox.

Dr Chowdhury said it was important for people with skin conditions to be able to go about their life normally, without fear of being publicly shamed.

“As dermatologists, our message to patients is to not let their condition stop them from doing the things that they love.

“It’s simple: don’t take pictures of people with visible skin conditions in public, don’t speculate about their health, and don’t contribute to the stigma around monkeypox specifically and rashes more generally.”

The public fear and misunderstanding about monkeypox has also been evident in reports of people with skin conditions facing discrimination because they are believed to have the virus.

In the US a woman with eczema claimed she had been removed from an airline flight after cabin crew mistakenly perceived her as having monkeypox.

She went on social media to say that the airline had further humiliated her by asking to see medical records to confirm what her skin condition was. She was only able to re-board the flight after showing staff a tube of prescribed medication for her eczema.

Responses to the post included many from other people with skin conditions who said they were worried about being stigmatised as having monkeypox and facing hostility and discrimination because of their condition.”

“Its gonna be a long pants/long sleeve summer for the psoriasis/eczema crew,” one suggested.

The US has declared monkeypox a national public health emergency after the number of reported cases exceeded 7,500.

The most recent monkeypox update from the Federal Department of Health said there had been 57 cases (confirmed and probable) in Australia, reflecting cases, including 31 in New South Wales, 22 in Victoria, 2 in the Australian Capital Territory, 1 in Queensland and 1 in South Australia.

The advisory stated that the symptoms included rashes, lesions or sores, particularly in areas that are hard to see such as the genitals, anus or buttocks and on the face, arms and legs.

Patient with monkeypox may also have ulcers, lesions or sores in the mouth, and fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and/or exhaustion prior to the rash or lesions developing.

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