Monkeypox strikes fear in people with skin diseases

When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a global health crisis on July 23, it solidified many people’s concerns about the start of a new pandemic. But for the millions of Americans dealing with visible skin conditions, another layer of fear is created: being wrongly accused of having the virus.

According to the WHO, the most common symptoms of monkeypox include “fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, and swollen lymph nodes,” which are often accompanied by a rash. “The rash can be found on the face, the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the eyes, the mouth, the throat, the groin, and the genital and/or anal regions of the body. The number of injuries can vary from one to several thousand. The lesions start out flat, then fill with fluid before they crust over, dry out and fall off, with a new layer of skin forming underneath,” the agency writes.

To the untrained eye, this rash can look a lot like psoriasis, eczema, or even severe acne, which has led to discriminatory practices against people dealing with these skin problems.

The reality of living with a visible skin condition amid the monkeypox outbreak

In a recent TikTok video, user @redm3at shared her experience being pulled off a plane and “questioned” about her eczema. “I have never been so humiliated in my entire life,” she writes. “Misinformation leads to discrimination/hostility. Everyone with a visible, non-contagious skin condition has been anticipating this.”

@redm3at misinformation leads to discrimination/hostility. everyone with a visible non-contagious skin condition has been anticipating this #monkeypox#eczema ♬ i’m Peppa Pig – funny

According to the comments section of the post, you’re right. “People used to bully me into thinking my eczema was contagious and I am terrified it will happen again,” one user writes. “As an adult with cystic acne, I have been scared. I have tried so hard to hide it out of fear,” shares another. Another person shares: “I have very bad acne on my face and body due to hormonal treatments and I am waiting for the inevitable accusation”, while another user writes: “I have eczema, [hidradenitis suppurativa]and cystic acne. The trifecta of looking like I have monkeypox, and I’m terrified.”

“At this time, monkeypox is confused with other skin conditions mainly because, while some presentations of monkeypox are considered more classic, we are still learning more about the specific clinical appearance of this outbreak,” said Marisa. Garshick, MD, Board Member. board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City, he tells Well+Good.

But much of the vilification surrounding visible skin disorders stems from misinformation about what a monkeypox rash actually looks like, so it’s worth clearing that up once and for all.

How to tell the difference between a monkeypox rash and other common visible skin conditions

According to Jeannette Graf, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, a monkeypox rash typically looks like pustules and pus-filled bumps. “It mainly has a distinctive appearance characterized by blisters,” she says.

Dr. Garshick adds that a monkeypox rash is most likely to go through different phases over a period of five to seven days, starting as a flat red mark and then increasing to resemble a blister or pus-filled lesion before form a crust, and may appear with a small depression in the skin. He’ll also want to consider where these rashes are developing, as Dr. Garshick explains that monkeypox rashes are usually described as occurring in the perianal area or near the genitals.

On the other hand, eczema (affecting an estimated 31.6 million people in the US) is characterized by red, inflamed skin; psoriasis (affecting about 7.5 million people in the US) looks like dry, crusty patches; and severe acne (affecting about 6.6 million people in the US) appears as red, round bumps under the skin. This is just a small selection of the visible skin conditions that leave people living in fear of discrimination (atopic dermatitis and rosacea are also among the many others on the list), but it’s worth noting that they are all one batch more common than monkeypox (which has affected 18,101 people in the US as of August 30), and neither of them are contagious.

What you can do to protect yourself against monkeypox

Of course, even if you they can differentiating between monkeypox and another visible skin condition, it goes without saying that it’s never okay to publicly shame someone you suspect may be dealing with an outbreak of the virus (but based on what’s happening on the internet, apparently it’s need to say). If you are worried about contracting the virus, the best thing you can do is protect yourself.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox can be spread through direct contact with a rash, scab, or bodily fluid from an infected person; touching objects, fabrics (such as clothing, bedding, and towels), or surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox; and contact with mucus or saliva that contains the virus. With that in mind, wash your hands regularly, wear a mask, and get vaccinated if eligible.

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