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What is ringworm?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Ringworm is a fungal skin infection that may affect humans as well as animals. It is medically termed dermatophytosis and is caused by various types of fungi.

Unlike the name suggests ringworm is not caused by a worm. It is called ringworm because of the characteristic appearance of a “ring” type rash that develops on the skin of the infected person or animal.

Frequency of fungal skin infections

Around 10-20% of people get some or other type of fungal skin infection at some point during their lifetime.

Who is affected by ringworm?

People of all ages can be affected by ringworm, but children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to it. (1-4)

Some of the fungi causing ringworm are only found on humans and some are exclusive to animals.

Many animal species including pets like dogs, cats, cattle, goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, rodents and birds may be affected by ringworm infestation.

How is ringworm spread?

The infection spreads by direct contact with the lesions. The lesion contains fungal spores.

The spores may be on the infected person or on items used by the person like clothing, towels, bedding, shaving instruments, manicure instruments etc.

The spores may also be present in the soil and may infect susceptible persons or animals.

Symptoms of ringworm

After exposure the infection takes 2 to 4 weeks to appear. The most common symptom is itchiness and the spots are ring like with redness, scaling, and sometimes blisters may be seen around the lesion.

The infected skin begins as a small area and tends to spread outwards. There is a typical circular, red, inflamed patch of skin. The outer edge is reddinsh and the center is pale and scaly.

Sometimes only one patch of infection occurs. Sometimes several patches occur over the body.

Types of ringworm

Ringworm may affect skin or hair or nails. Depending on the part affected it may be termed (2) –

  • Ringworm infestation of the skin over the body – Tinea corporis
  • Scalp ringworm – Tinea capitis
  • Infection of the face or beard region – Tinea barbae
  • Foot ringworm or Athlete’s foot – Tinea pedis
  • Groin ring worm – Tinea cruris
  • Nail infection called onychomycosis

Prevention of ringworm

Prevention is the key to ringworm infestations. Good hygiene helps in prevention of the condition from spreading.

This includes frequent hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting clothing and items used by infected persons and vacuuming surfaces around infected animals and persons.

Treatment with an antifungal cream usually works well. However, ringworm is highly contagious and is easily spread among people.

In most cases a consultation with a GP may not be needed and therapy may be begun at home with over the counter anti-fungal creams and lotions.

However, ringworm infestations in infants, children, in the elder, severely ill or debilitated or those with a depressed immunity like cancer patients or HIV AIDS patients consultation with a physician is needed.

Ringworm of the scalp in children also needed oral anti-fungal medications to treat.

Edited by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Ringworm Causes
Ringworm Symptoms
Ringworm Diagnosis
Ringworm Treatments

Last Updated: Jul 2, 2012

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