Can Ringworm Kill You

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Myths & Facts About Ringworm

When you hear the term “ringworm,” do you imagine a collection of tiny worms slithering around on your skin? Then you may have fallen prey to one of the many misconceptions about this common skin condition. In reality, ringworm is far less creepy than the name suggests.

In this article, we’ll clear up some of the myths that continue to circulate about ringworm.

Myth 1: Ringworm is caused by a worm

Probably the most pervasive ringworm myth, this one stems from the condition’s name. Despite its creepy-crawly name, ringworm (also called tinea) is not caused by any worm. The culprit is actually a group of fungi called dermatophytes, which can cause skin infections. Ringworm gets its name from the distinctive ring-like pattern the red spots often form on the skin.

Myth 2: Ringworm only affects the skin

Although ringworm often does appear on the skin, including the scalp, it can also show up on the fingernails or toenails. Ringworm of the nails doesn’t create a ring-like pattern. Instead, it turns the nails thick, yellow, and brittle.

Myth 3: Everyone with ringworm develops red rings on their skin

Some people who are infected do develop the scaly red ring that gives the condition its name — but not everyone. If you get ringworm infection, you will probably see bumpy red patches around your skin, but they won’t necessarily take the shape of rings. On your scalp, ringworm may look more like a flaky red pimple than a ring.

Myth 4: Only children get ringworm

Children are more likely to get certain types of ringworm, but you can get infected with the fungus at any age.

Myth 5: Ringworm isn’t contagious

In fact, the opposite is true. Ringworm spreads easily from person to person, especially in communal areas like locker rooms and neighborhood pools. Ringworm is so contagious, in fact, that you don’t even have to touch someone to get infected. The fungus can linger in places like locker room floors, as well as on hats, combs, and brushes.

If you share an infected brush or comb, you can develop ringworm of the scalp. The highly contagious nature of the condition is why doctors recommend staying away from anyone who is infected, as well as their personal items.

Myth 6: You’ll see symptoms of ringworm right after you’re infected

Ringworm has a long incubation period. The red rash can actually take a few days to appear on your skin. If you have ringworm of the scalp, you may not see any signs for a full two weeks after you were exposed.

Myth 7: You can’t catch ringworm from your pet

Humans and their pets can share a number of diseases, including ringworm. Not only can you catch ringworm from your cat, dog, rabbit, or bird, but you can give it to your pet, too. That’s why it’s important to take your pet to the vet if you suspect ringworm. Keep infected pets away from your family — as well as from other pets. And wash your hands with soap and warm water every time you touch your pet until the infection clears.

Myth 8: A flaky scalp is probably dandruff, not ringworm

Not necessarily. Sometimes ringworm of the scalp doesn’t produce the signature ring. Instead, the skin becomes scaly and flaky, much like dandruff.

Myth 9: Only the infected person needs to be treated for ringworm

Because ringworm is so contagious, other people in the household may also need to be treated — even if they don’t have any symptoms. If there’s a chance they may have picked up ringworm of the scalp, they may need to use a special shampoo or even pills and be examined to determine if there is an infection.

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Myth 10: Ringworm is treated with antibiotics

Antibiotics kill bacteria. They won’t work on ringworm, which is caused by a fungus. Ringworm is treated with antifungal medicines that you either rub on the skin or take by mouth. Ringworm of the scalp is treated with a special shampoo and an oral antifungal medicine. You may have to keep using whatever medicine you’re prescribed for several weeks to fully get rid of the infection.

Myth 11: Once you get ringworm, you can’t catch it again

It’s common to get infected again, especially with ringworm of the nails.

Show Sources

Nemours Foundation: “Ringworm.”

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: “Ringworm Myth-Busters.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Ringworm.”

Wisconsin Department of Health Services: “Ringworm.”

How to Cure Ringworm

Treating ringworm with a topical cream

“That’s a huge misconception. Ringworm, or tinea, is not a creature but an infection caused by fungus,” says dermatologist Alok Vij, MD. Here’s how to spot this common fungal infection — and how to wipe it out.

Recognizing ringworm symptoms

Ringworm causes red, ring-shaped patches on the skin. The red splotches typically have a wavy border that’s raised or scaly, Dr. Vij says. The rash is usually a little itchy but not always.

And those itchy red patches are all too common. The infection spreads through skin-to-skin contact, so it often affects kids (who are famously lax about keeping their hands to themselves) and athletes who engage in close contact, such as wrestlers. But it can strike anyone of any age.

It can also show up anywhere on the body. In kids, the scalp is a common spot. But tinea can also infiltrate the feet (where it’s known as athlete’s foot) or the groin (hello, jock itch).

Ringworm treatment

If you have signs of ringworm, you probably want it gone yesterday. Good news, says Dr. Vij: “It’s generally easy to treat.”

Look for over-the-counter antifungal creams such as Tinactin® (tolnaftate topical) or Lotramin® (clotrimazole). These products are often found in the foot care aisle and marketed for athlete’s foot. These creams will:

  • Clear it up: Use it twice a day, and the infection should start clearing within a few days, Dr. Vij says.
  • Wipe it out: Keep using the cream morning and night for a month to fully wipe out the fungus and prevent it from making a repeat performance, he says. “Using the creams consistently is the key.”

Most often, an OTC treatment works well to clear up ringworm. If it doesn’t, see a doctor, because you might have a deeper infection that requires prescription treatment.

However, DO NOT treat ringworm with apple cider vinegar. Some people suggest applying this would-be home remedy and covering the spot with a bandage. But you may end up with open sores, Dr. Vij says. “I’ve seen people with scarring as a result of trying to treat ringworm with vinegar.”

Keep ringworm infections at bay

When you have ringworm, antifungal creams are your friends. Still, you’d surely rather avoid the infection in the first place.

These strategies can help you avoid those telltale red rings (or prevent them from spreading from one part of your body to another):

  • Wash up: After touching the rash, wash your hands before you touch another part of your body. (Or somebody else’s body. Your friends will thank you.)
  • Boil the bedding:Wash all linens, towels and clothing that comes into contact with an infected person. (Go ahead and crank up the water temp — you want to scorch those fungi.)
  • Check Spot: Have a vet check your dog for fungal infections since they can spread tinea to people.
  • Hit the showers: Shower right after working out — especially if you’re a wrestler or participate in other close-contact sports.
  • Protect your feet: Wear shower shoes at the gym or pool to avoid catching athlete’s foot.
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Ringworm Risk & Prevention

Ringworm is very common. Anyone can get ringworm, but people who have weakened immune systems may be especially at risk for infection and may have problems fighting off a ringworm infection. 1 People who use public showers or locker rooms, athletes (particularly those who are involved in contact sports such as wrestling), 2–4 people who wear tight shoes and have excessive sweating, and people who have close contact with animals may also be more likely to come in contact with the fungi that cause ringworm.

Protect yourself from itchy rashes - Ringworm infographic

How can I prevent ringworm?

  • Keep your skin clean and dry.
  • Wear shoes that allow air to circulate freely around your feet.
  • Don’t walk barefoot in areas like locker rooms or public showers.
  • Clip your fingernails and toenails short and keep them clean.
  • Change your socks and underwear at least once a day.
  • Don’t share clothing, towels, sheets, or other personal items with someone who has ringworm.
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water after playing with pets. If you suspect that your pet has ringworm, take it to see a veterinarian. If your pet has ringworm, follow the steps below to prevent spreading the infection.
  • If you’re an athlete involved in close contact sports, shower immediately after your practice session or match, and keep all of your sports gear and uniform clean. Don’t share sports gear (helmet, etc.) with other players.

My pet has ringworm and I’m worried about ringworm in my house. What should I do?

Ringworm can easily transfer from animals to humans. 5 You can take the following steps to protect yourself and your pet:

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  • Wash your hands with soap and running water after playing with or petting your pet.
  • Wear gloves and long sleeves if you must handle animals with ringworm, and always wash your hands after handling the animal.
  • Vacuum the areas of the home that the infected pet commonly visits. This will help to remove infected fur or flakes of skin.
  • Disinfect areas the pet has spent time in, including surfaces and bedding.
    • The spores of this fungus can be killed with common disinfectants like diluted chlorine bleach (1/4 c per gallon water), benzalkonium chloride, or strong detergents.
    • Never mix cleaning products. This may cause harmful gases.

    Do not handle animals with ringworm if your immune system is weak in any way (if you have HIV/AIDS, are undergoing cancer treatment, or are taking medications that suppress the immune system, for example).

    For pets
    Protect your pet’s health

    • If you suspect that your pet has ringworm, make sure it is seen by a veterinarian so treatment can be started.
    • If one of your pets has ringworm, make sure you have every pet in the household checked for ringworm infection.

    There’s a ringworm outbreak in my child’s school/daycare center. What should I do?

    • Contact your local health department for more information.
    • Tell your child not to share personal items, such as clothing, hairbrushes, and hats, with other people.
    • Take your child to see a pediatrician if he or she develops ringworm symptoms.
    • Check with your child’s school or daycare to see if he or she can still attend classes or participate in athletics.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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