Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ringworm Infection

(Above left) Tinea corporis is caused by fungi such as Trichophyton mariatii (right)

Ringworm. The name of this skin condition just sounds yucky, doesn't it? Perhaps there is some consolation in the fact that there is no "worm" involved at all. This contagious and mildly itchy condition results from mold-like fungi called dermatophytes. Moist, humid conditions and tropical environments are ideal breeding grounds for the ringworm fungi, but ringworm can certainly occur at any time of the year.

Different species of dermatophytes are implicated in causing infection in specific body areas. The medical names for the various types of ringworm come from Latin and are specific to the area of the body that is affected.

  • Tinea capitis affects the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes. It is usually spread by person-to-person contact. Children under the age of 10 are most commonly affected. Sharing of combs, brushes and hats should be discouraged. The infectious fungi and their spores can also survive on sheets, pillowcases, carpeting, and furniture. Meticulous cleaning will help contain the risk of infection and reinfection.
  • Tinea corporis affects the body resulting in a circular pink skin lesion with a pale center. Infection can result from exposure to infected humans, soil, or animals. The infectious fungi can survive on inanimate objects such as sports equipment, clothing and towels. Recurrent infections can occur from this contagious fungus.
  • Tinea pedis affects the feet and is commonly known as athletes foot. Shower floors, surfaces around swimming pools, and damp shoes can harbor the fungi responsible for this skin condition. Wearing shower shoes (flip flops), drying the feet carefully, and allowing shoes to dry completely (perhaps alternating pairs) will help prevent recurrent infections.
  • Tinea cruris, which affects the groin area, is frequently called "jock itch." All it takes is a warm moist environment for this irritating fungi to proliferate; both men AND women can be affected.
Your physician may diagnose ringworm by the location and obvious appearance or by scrapings sent to a lab for precise identification. Treatment with topical antifungal creams is usually enough to treat ringworm; however, some stubborn infections will also require an antifungal pill to completely clear the symptoms.

Prevent reinfection by keeping affected skin clean and dry. When animals are carriers of tinea corporis, veterinary evaluation and treatment is indicated. Cleaning the pet's home environment is an important part of preventing reoccurance within the family. It may seem obvious, but bears repeating that children should avoid playing in dirt or sand soiled by infected animals.

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