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Novel epidemics and pandemics are inherently plagued by scientific uncertainties and a rapidly evolving nature. This can lead to widespread fear and confusion—directly proportional to the level of disease impact and subsequent media coverage, which perpetuates panic.1 Evolutionary psychologists argue that as response to fear humans tend to distance from those considered a source of danger (infections), guided by self-preservation, desire to find control or unfounded beliefs that those infected bear responsibility. Yet, this leads to misplaced reactions and stigmatisation.2
Originally from ancient Greek, the term ‘stigma’ was used to ‘permanently mark people as criminals, traitors or slaves’. Nowadays, it describes negative associations and discrimination against people with certain attributes (social, physical, behavioural).3 Examples of stigmatisation can be found throughout infectious disease history, affecting communities, caregivers, family and those infected. Among the most stigmatised have been those affected by or associated with HIV/AIDS.4 Many other examples exist, towards Jewish immigrants during the 1892 typhus fever and cholera outbreaks in New York City,1 towards ‘African-ness’ during Ebola outbreak(s), towards ‘Asian-ness’ during SARS4 and towards those of Mexican/Latin American descent during 2009 H1N1 …
Contributors KRvD wrote the manuscript and designed the figure with support from RC, OHF and MC. All authors provided critical feedback and helped shape the presented commentary.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests The authors have no competing interest.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.