Science

Monkeypox: beyond damage, a psychological stigma – Sciences et Avenir

If monkeypox mostly replicates skin lesions and bouts of fever, those affected also suffer the psychological consequences associated with the disease, former patients and caregivers warn.

“We do not come out unscathed from a disease that has hurt us so much, being locked up for three weeks, moreover, with the severity of discrimination,” admits 27-year-old Corentin Hennebert, who spoke publicly after becoming “one of the first French “. cases. After remission, he was approached by other patients who, like him, declared the “psychological cost” of the disease.

“There is psychological stress that comes from several things,” explains Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, an infectious disease specialist at the Bichat Hospital (Paris), who coordinated a clinical study of infected patients.

On the one hand, “pain” and possible “consequences, in particular aesthetic”, on the other hand, the fact of being hit by a “disease that people have never heard of” and which occurs after two years of the Covid Epidemic -19, leading to a new three-week lockdown.

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

– “Razor blade” –

So it was with Corentin Hennebert: “I always had the impression that razor blades were stuck in me, I can’t find any other comparison, it was so strong,” he says.

Before he was put on tramadol, a powerful painkiller, he “lost 7kg in three days” because he didn’t eat anymore. “I only thought about the pain,” he recalls. “And I’m not alone, others have contacted me to say that they are exhausted, that they cry all the time.”

Spared from this suffering, 32-year-old Sebastian Tuller says he was affected by the appearance of the defeats. “It was really ugly and I didn’t know what to do. I really wanted it to appear on my face.”

“Once the disease is visible, it’s scary because it’s potentially stigmatizing,” says Michel Ohayon, director of the 190 Sexual Health Center, drawing a parallel to “Karposi’s sarcoma,” which was “an AIDS symptom.”

A comparison often used by those concerned. Because if the two diseases “have nothing in common” in terms of severity, monkeypox “awakens the trauma of HIV,” said Nicolas Derche, national director of the 650-member SOS community health center. , social and medico-social.

– The Resurgent Trauma of HIV –

“In HIV-positive people, it reactivated very violent things,” whether it was “fear of the diagnosis” or “the restoration of strong stigma,” says Vincent Leclerc, an Aides activist.

As with HIV, monkeypox now circulates primarily among MSM (men who have sex with men), which has led to renewed discrimination.

“There is a lot of conventional homophobia, and it has a real impact on mental health,” testifies Sebastien Tuller, an LGBT activist and lawyer who says he has received a flood of insults and derogatory remarks.

“Many people don’t say they have or have had monkeypox for fear of stigmatization,” he says. “Especially young people who have not yet come out” to their family, or people who are afraid that their sexual orientation will be revealed to their employer due to the length of the lockdown (three weeks) .

In August, Santé Publique France noted “psychological and relationship difficulties” reported through “the monkeypox information service”. The association that runs this listening service told AFP that 22% of the calls are related to these topics.

Other observed effects include the mental health effects of the “insecurity” generated for some, such as the self-employed or sex workers, by the three-week lockdown, and the “degradation of sex life,” says Nicolas Derche.

Due to fear of infection or infection, many people stop all sexual activity for months or experience libido problems, the associations explain.

Fortunately, says Mr Derche, “the experience with HIV” has led to the development of a “community-based approach to health” and “caring for people who have been exposed” and thus “supporting people who are currently facing with monkeypox.”

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