Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.
As India is becoming the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety about the disease has at times descended into violence against the sick, and even health care workers. The problem isn’t limited to India—people in countries from Nepal to Mexico to Italy have stigmatized individuals connected to COVID-19, making it harder for them to go about their daily lives and get much-needed care. And such ostracism isn’t new: Societies have spurned people with leprosy for ages, as far back as ancient Hindu texts, which proscribed marriage into families that had a member with the disease. In a new story in Science, journalist Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar discusses the history of disease stigma—from leprosy, to plague, to HIV/AIDS—and how its vitriol and isolation can create a vicious cycle of disease.