Ringworm

Overview

Ringworm is a common skin infection that is caused by a fungus. The infection gets its name from the circular shape of the rash it causes. There are different types of ringworm infection, all caused by dermaphyte fungus; this fungus can infect the body, feet, groin, and scalp. The fungus that causes ringworm is most commonly spread by direct contact with an infected person and thrives in warm, moist areas. Ringworm can be treated with antifungal medications.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The primary symptom of ringworm is the development of a raised, scaly patch on the skin that resembles a ring of red with normal skin tone in the middle. There may be just one patch or clusters that blister and itch. Scalp infection may cause bald spots instead of red patches, and nail infections result in thick, discolored, weak nails. If the infection is not treated, it can lead to an abscess or cellulitis. Scratching the area can cause staph or strep infections; signs of a bacterial infection include swelling, warm skin, pus, and fever. People typically start to notice signs of an infection 4 to 14 days after exposure to the fungus.

Ringworm can usually be diagnosed based on a visual examination of the affected skin. A special UV lamp (Wood’s lamp) may be used to reveal the fungus, which appears blue under the light. To confirm the diagnosis, doctors may scrape or clip some of the skin to do a fungal culture.

Causes

Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by a worm; instead, it is an infection caused by a fungus called a dermaphyte. Dermaphytes are responsible for several types of fungal infections, including athlete’s foot (tineapedis), jock itch (tineacruris), scalp infection (tineacapitis), and ringworm of the body (tineacorporis). People catch ringworm by touching someone with the infection or by touching a contaminated surface, such as dirty clothes, towels, showers, and pool areas. Ringworm is often found in athletes because it is easier to catch when wet or sweating and the fungus thrives in moist areas of the skin, such as the folds. The fungus can also cause infection if it gets into a cut or scrape in the skin, scalp, or nails. Certain animals, especially cats, can carry the fungus and easily pass it on to humans. Anyone can get ringworm, although it is more common in people who use communal pools or baths and people who participate in contact sports such as wrestling. The risk of ringworm infection is also higher in people with weakened immune systems. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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