Chickenpox: beyond the injuries, the psychological stigma

“We didn’t come out unscathed from an illness that had hurt us a lot, locked up for three weeks with, in addition, the weight of discrimination,” says Corentin Hennebert, 27, who spoke publicly after being “one of the first cases” French. Since his remission, he has been requested by other patients who, like him, report the “psychological cost” of the disease.

“Psychological stress”

“There is a psychic suffering that is linked to several things”, explains Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Bichat Hospital (Paris), who coordinated a clinical study in infected patients. Firstly, “pain” and any “sequels, in particular aesthetic”on the other hand, the fact of being affected by “a disease people have never heard of” and which comes after two years of the Covid-19 epidemic, resulting in another three weeks of isolation.

A small proportion of patients develop internal lesions, particularly proctologic, “extremely painful” and that sometimes require hospitalization or even surgery, he explains.

“Shaving Blades”

This was the case with Corentin Hennebert: “I was constantly under the impression that razor blades were driving me, I can’t find any other comparison, it was so strong,” he says. Before receiving tramadol, a powerful pain reliever, he “I lost 7 kg in three days” because I didn’t eat anymore. “I only thought of the pain”he remembers. “And I’m not the only one, others have contacted me to tell me that they were exhausted, that they were crying all the time.”

Spared from these sufferings, Sébastien Tuller, 32, says he was affected by the appearance of the injuries. “It was really ugly and I didn’t know what to do. I was really looking forward to seeing it show on my face.” “Once a disease is visible, it’s scary because it becomes potentially stigmatizing”notes Michel Ohayon, director of 190, a sexual health center, drawing a parallel with “Karposi’s Sarcoma” he was “the symptom of AIDS”.

A comparison often made by stakeholders. Because if the two diseases “there is nothing to do” in terms of severity, chickenpox “come to wake up from the trauma of HIV”estimates Nicolas Derche, national director of the SOS group’s community health center, which brings together 650 social and medical-social structures.

The rekindled trauma of HIV

“In HIV positive people, it reactivated very violent things”be the “fear of a diagnosis” or of “relive a strong stigma”, reports Vincent Leclercq, an Aides activist. As was the case with HIV, monkeypox currently circulates mainly in the MSM (men who have sex with men) community, which has led to new discrimination.

“There is a lot of common homophobia and it has a real impact on mental health”witness Sébastien Tuller, an LGBT activist and lawyer, who says he has received torrents of insults and derogatory comments. “Many do not say they have smallpox or have had it, for fear of being stigmatized”, he reports. “Especially young people, who have not yet come out” to the family, or people who are afraid of having their sexual orientation revealed to the employer because of the length of isolation (three weeks).

Of “psychological and relational difficulties”

In August, Santé Publique France came under the “psychological and relational difficulties” reported via the “Monkeypox info service” line. The association that manages this eavesdropping service told AFP that 22% of the calls concern these issues.

Among the other impacts observed, the effects on mental health “precariousness” generated for some, such as self-employed or sex workers, by the three weeks of isolation, and the “degradation of sex life”, says Nicolas Derche. For fear of becoming infected or contaminated, many people have stopped all sexual activity for months, or are experiencing libido problems, the associations explain.

Fortunately, points out Mr. derche, “the HIV experience” allowed to develop “the community health approach” and “care for exposed people” and then “to support people who are now faced with smallpox”.

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