Beyond the lesions, the psychological stigma

If monkeypox mainly echoes skin lesions and bouts of fever, those affected also suffer from the psychological repercussions linked to the disease, warn former patients and caregivers.

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

” Razor blades “

“There is psychological distress which is linked to several things”, explains Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, infectious disease specialist at Bichat hospital (Paris), who coordinated a clinical study on infected patients. On the one hand, “the pain” and the possible “sequelae, in particular aesthetic”, on the other hand, the fact of being affected by “a disease that people have never heard of” and which occurs after two years of the Covid-19 epidemic, leading to a new three-week isolation. A small part of the patients develop internal lesions, in particular proctological, “extremely painful” and which sometimes require hospitalization or even surgery, he explains.

This was the case for Corentin Hennebert: “I constantly had the impression that razor blades were being pushed into me, I can’t find any other comparison, it was so strong”, he says. . Before being placed on tramadol, a powerful painkiller, he had “lost 7 kg over three days” because he no longer ate. “I only thought about the pain,” he recalls. “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”.

The rekindled trauma of HIV

Spared by these sufferings, Sébastien Tuller, 32, says he was affected by the appearance of the lesions. “It was really ugly and I didn’t know what to do. I was very anxious to see it appear on my face. “As soon as a disease is visible, it is frightening because it becomes potentially stigmatizing,” observes Michel Ohayon, director of 190, a sexual health center, drawing a parallel with “Karposi’s sarcoma” which was “the symptom AIDS “. A comparison often taken up by those concerned.

Because if the two diseases “have nothing to do” in terms of severity, monkey pox “comes to awaken the trauma of HIV”, estimates Nicolas Derche, national director of the community health center of the SOS group, which brings together 650 structures. social and medico-social. “In HIV-positive people, this has reactivated very violent things”, whether it is “fear of a diagnosis” or “reviving a strong stigma”, reports Vincent Leclercq, activist at Aides.

As was the case with HIV, monkeypox currently circulates mainly within the MSM (men who have sex with men) community, which has led to renewed discrimination. “There is a lot of ordinary homophobia and this has a real impact on mental health”, testifies Sébastien Tuller, LGBT activist and lawyer, who recounts having received torrents of insults and derogatory remarks. “Many don’t say they have monkeypox or have had it, for fear of being stigmatized,” he reports. “Young people especially, who have not yet come out” to their family, or people who are afraid of having their sexual orientation revealed to their employer because of the duration of the isolation (three weeks) .

Precariousness and degradation of sexual life

In August, Santé Publique France noted “psychological and relational difficulties” reported via the “Monkeypox info service” line. The association that manages this listening service specifies that 22% of calls relate to these themes. Among the other repercussions observed, the effects on mental health “of the precariousness” engendered for some, such as self-employed or sex workers, by the three weeks of isolation, and the “degradation of sexual life”, says Nicolas Derche.

For fear of being contaminated or contaminating, many people have ceased all sexual activity for months, or are experiencing libido problems, explain the associations. Fortunately, underlines Nicolas Derche, “the experience of HIV” has made it possible to develop “the community health approach” and “care for exposed people” and thus “to support people who are today confronted with monkeypox”.

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