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Stigma: the social virus spreading faster than COVID-19
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  1. Kim Robin van Daalen1,
  2. Mark Cobain2,
  3. Oscar H Franco3,
  4. Rajiv Chowdhury4
  1. 1Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK
  3. 3Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Bern, Bern, Berne, Switzerland
  4. 4Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge University, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Kim Robin van Daalen, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK; krv22{at}cam.ac.uk

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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 …

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