Monkey pox has worsened the stigma of skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis

The psoriasis cashier received complaints from clients on a daily basis. A traveler with eczema was escorted from the flight and questioned by airline employees. A commuter with small, benign tumors on his body was unknowingly filmed and researched on social media.

They were all highlighted because people mistakenly believed they had monkey pox.

People with chronic skin conditions say they have gotten used to being stared and questioned about their appearance, but harassment and stigma have escalated during the worldwide monkey pox epidemic.

As a result, some people with different skin types say they have started to cover themselves with sweatshirts and gloves even in warm weather, or have stopped going out so often.

This summer, Jacqueline Nguyen, 21, who has eczema, boarded Spirit Airlines in Los Angeles, but shortly before take-off, Nguyen was asked to leave the plane and asked about their skin.

After Nguyen explained it was eczema, the airline asked for proof. Nguyen was only allowed to return to the plane after producing a bottle of Eczema cream. Nguyen called the experience “embarrassing” and “a nightmare” and posted videos about the incident on his TikToku. Spirit Airlines did not respond to requests for comment.

“I just existed in the skin I have that I wear every day and was treated like a problem,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen now divides his hair differently to hide the eczema on the scalp and face, and wears long sleeves to leave the house or avoids leaving the house altogether during an exacerbation.

An estimated 84 million people live with some kind of skin condition, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Eczema, an inflammatory skin condition that can cause itchy patches of red, crunchy, and sometimes oozing skin, affects approximately 30 million people in the United States. Psoriasis, an autoimmune disease, affects approximately 3 percent of the U.S. adult population and can form silver and scaly red patches with well-defined edges, especially on the elbows, knees and scalp.

In contrast, monkey pox tends to appear as pus-filled or fluid-filled lumps that are often painful, said Esther Freeman, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of the monkey pox task force of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Psychologists say the pandemic has increased medical anxiety in general, which may explain the extra control of people with skin conditions. A recent nationwide survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that nearly 1 in 5 Americans were concerned about contracting monkey pox, but didn’t understand much about it.

Mark Schaller, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, said health concerns could exacerbate prejudices against people who appear differently. His research also found that a higher perceived risk of infection correlated with more prejudiced attitudes towards immigrants, the obese and the elderly. He also found that when people feel more prone to disease, they report that they have less contact with people with disabilities.

“Over the past three years, people have been concerned about illness a lot because they’ve been in the news a lot,” said Schaller. “When people are more concerned about disease, they express more prejudices about people with physical disabilities.”

Kate Riggle, 41, has psoriasis, and after an outbreak of monkey pox, she began receiving complaints from clients daily at her job. She works in a deli in her hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, where she helps prepare food and works as a cashier.

“There have been times when people have complained that they don’t even want me to touch their money,” she said. “Even if my psoriasis is on the elbow.”

Lilly Simon, 33, from Brooklyn, said she understood people’s insecurity when they see lumps caused by her neurofibromatosis 1, a genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow on nerve endings and creates tiny lumps all over her body. But, she said, it’s not justify rude behavior or mistreatment.

This summer, Simon was unknowingly filmed by a stranger on his way to work. The video was then posted on TikTok with a monkey emoticon and a question mark. The movie went viral, with many comments accusing Simon of possessing and spreading monkey pox.

When Simon saw the post a few days later, she was terrified. “My heart stopped a little,” she said. “All these old feelings have risen. The old feeling that I have to cover it up.

Simon quickly posted a response video to raise awareness about her condition, explaining that she had been stalked by her skin in the past and had sought therapy to deal with it.

It’s unclear whether people with skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema are more likely to contract monkey pox if they come into contact with it. However, the chances of contracting monkey pox through regular activities remain low, said Freeman, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Freeman advises his patients to take the same precautions as in the general population: get vaccinated if they are at high risk and avoid contact with anyone with monkey pox.

What should I know about the symptoms, treatment, and protection of monkey pox?

Freeman stressed that anyone at high risk of developing monkey pox, who also has a condition that compromises the skin barrier should receive the Jynneos vaccine, which has been specifically approved by the FDA for monkey pox. The older generation smallpox vaccine, ACAM2000, carries a risk of serious side effects in people with certain skin conditions.

Erica Dommasch, a dermatologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says that a person with eczema who becomes infected with monkey pox may be at risk of becoming more severely ill because the disease can spread more easily from one area of ​​the body to another.

If anyone, with or without chronic skin disease, notices something unusual on her own skin, she encouraged them to consult a dermatologist.

As for those people who watch and harass people with skin conditions? Leave the diagnosis to the professionals, she said.

“There are many other skin conditions in the world, and we shouldn’t just assume that everyone who looks different has monkey pox,” said Dommasch.

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