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February 2016

Discrimination Against People With Dermatologic Diseases

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, Miami, Florida
  • 2University of Miami School of Law, Coral Gables, Florida
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(2):140. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.3886

Discrimination is often associated with race, ethnicity, or religion. Interestingly, dermatologic conditions have historically been a source of discrimination as well. Various skin diseases have led to significant persecution, exile, and even death. Herein, we review shocking historical beliefs and practices regarding specific dermatologic conditions.

Leprosy has been the target for ostracism in many cultures. King Rothar of Lombardy first issued laws regulating the marriage of lepers in ad 661. In medieval Europe, lepers were required to wear mantles and beaver skin hats to distinguish themselves from society. They also had to carry bells with them to warn of their approach. London issued a decree exiling all lepers from the city in the 14th century. More recently, in the 19th century, Hawaii exiled anyone suspected of having leprosy to the island of Molokai.1