Bella Lamilla was hospitalized in terrible shape, but did she know what others were saying? One hopes not. “It was ugly,” says her great-nephew. “It hurt a lot.” That’s because Lamilla, Ecuador’s “patient zero,” was ripped apart on social media for contracting the coronavirus—one of several known incidents of COVID-19 patients being shamed, castigated, or abused because they fell ill, the AP reports. In Haiti, an orphanage was stoned after a Belgian volunteer tested positive; in Indonesia, a professional dancer was unfairly accused of selling herself after she got sick; in India, the Guardian reports, doctors were evicted by landlords who feared they might infect other tenants. And psychologists say this dark side of human behavior is nothing new.
“Illness is one of the fundamental fears humans have been dealing with their entire evolution,” says a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis. “It’s not really surprising they would be hostile toward someone they believe is responsible for bringing illness into their community.” That must be cold comfort for Lamilla’s family, who self-quarantined after she fell ill on a plane-ride home and was soon intubated, unconscious, at a hospital. “How irresponsible,” one Facebook user said of photos feting her recent return. Lamilla and one of her sisters both died of the illness, leaving her family to grieve in quarantine. “Patient zero didn’t create the virus,” says a family member. “She never knew she had it.”