The skin infection ringworm is not actually caused by a worm, but by a mold-like fungi called a dermophyte. The fungal infection caused by ringworm develops in the top layer of skin and created a red circular rash. This rash assumes the shape or resemblance to the outline of a worm, hence where it gets its name. The rash typically starts as a small red bump or scaly patch of skin. This rash may, or may not, itch – but if you ask those who have experienced it, they will tell you it tends to be itchy and uncomfortable. As the rash progresses, the initial patch develops a somewhat raised border that expands outward forming the characteristic circular ring. This outline does not need to be exact, in fact the ring or circle can be very irregular looking like a wavy worm or snake. Several rings can turn up on the skin in the same place, or at the same time, even overlapping in some instances.
The medical terminology for ringworm is tinea corporis or tina capitis. These are ringworm of the body and scalp respectively. These are closely related to each other and the similar rashes of athlete’s foots and jock itch. Ringworm often spreads by direct contact of the skin with a person or animal who is already infected with ringworm. To treat the infections, doctors generally prescribe antifungal medications. For milder cases of infection, over the counter antifungal products can be very helpful, while for more severe infection antifungal pills are prescribed to be taken for a few weeks until the infection subsides. Because this infection is easily treated, ringworm rarely spreads or advances beyond the surface of the skin or cause any serious complications. Those who should be most prudent with their care are those with compromised immune systems such as infants, elderly and those with immunosuppressant disease like HIV/AIDS.
What causes this contagious fungal infection?
Ringworm is caused by mold-like fungal parasites that live on the cells of the outer layer of the skin. It spreads through the following ways of contact:
· Human to human: The most common vehicle for spreading ringworm is direct human-to-human contact. This happens when there is skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
· Animal to human: Ringworm can spread by touching or grooming an animal that is infected with ringworm. This includes dogs, cats and cows.
· Object to human: Ringworm can spread by touching objects and surfaces that an infected person has recently been in contact with. This includes wrestling mats and the gym, which is why we see ringworm spread so often in athletes.
· Soil to human: Ringworm can be spread by prolonged contact with highly infected soil. This way of contraction is very rare.
The risk of contracting ringworm increases if:
· Under 15 years old
· Damp, humid or crowded living conditions
· Have close contact with an infected person or animal
· Share clothing, bedding or towels with infected individual
· Skin-to-skin contact sports (wrestling)
· Wear tight or restricted clothing
· Have a weakened immune system
When should you see a doctor?
See a physician if you have a rash that does not improve within two weeks’ time. You may need prescription antibiotics to take care of the infection. Similarly if the rash is in the shape of a ring, then having the doctor evaluate it can help you resolve it, and stop you from spreading to others.