Ringworm is a common skin and nail infection that affects millions of people every day. The condition goes by many names, including “athlete’s foot” and “jock itch.” Around 40 different species of fungi are responsible for ringworm.
The fungi travel and spread in many different ways, bringing the risk of ringworm infection with them. However, understanding the common methods of exposure and what steps to take to avoid them can dramatically reduce your risk of infection.
Anyone can get ringworm, and the fungi can hop from person to person through a variety of means. Usually, ringworm survives on dead keratin, which sits on the top layer of the skin and in the hair and nails. Because of this, direct physical contact with an infected person may lead to the infection spreading.
Transmission among household members is the most common route for ringworm to spread.
Like humans, animals can sometimes get ringworm infections, through contact with another animal or a person. When a person pets an infected animal, the ringworm transfers from them to the human. Ringworm is significantly less common in urban animals, while rural farm animals like cows, pigs, goats, and horses, more frequently pass the ringworm fungi to people.
The fungi responsible for ringworm infections can persist on various objects and surfaces. This is particularly true for warm, damp areas, such as public showers and locker rooms. Infected animals or humans may spread the fungi through contact with blankets or towels. Sharing clothing or combs is another common way ringworm infections spread.
Ringworm-causing fungi sometimes settle in the ground in easily accessible areas. This means that contact with soil may result in a ringworm infection in both animals and humans. Most adults are unlikely to come into contact with infected soil unless they have a hobby like gardening.
Additionally, urban yards have a lower risk of harboring ringworm fungi. Free-roaming cats and children who like to play in the dirt have higher risks of infection, but the likelihood is still quite low.
One of the bigger risk factors for spreading ringworm infections is frequent exposure to areas requiring close contact. Daycares and similar childcare centers are often the sources of childhood illness outbreaks due to the volume of children and their close proximity to each other. Of course, this includes ringworm.
Other locations that might increase the risk are university dorms, military housing, group homes, and similar living situations.
Studies indicate that a person’s choice of clothing may also increase their risk of developing a ringworm infection. In some instances, this is because the clothing promotes sweating and increases body temperature, creating the perfect environment for fungi to thrive.
Experts also suggest that fungi can more easily travel from clothing to skin if a person’s apparel fits more snugly.
Athletic individuals often have a higher chance of developing a ringworm infection for several reasons. A person who plays a lot of sports is more likely to wear tight-fitting athletic wear and sweat often, encouraging fungi growth.
Additionally, there is a higher risk of contact with infected objects like wrestling mats or infected soil. Close-contact sports also lead to more person-to-person spread.
The climate and local environment also play a huge role in how common ringworm fungi are and how readily they spread. Fungi prefer warm, damp environments, meaning that people who live in tropical areas have a much higher risk of ringworm than those in arid locations.
Additionally, in most regions, ringworm becomes more common in the summer as the temperatures climb.
Simply coming into contact with fungi that can cause ringworm is not enough to develop an infection. In most cases, the body’s immune system fights off the fungi, and a person never even realizes they were exposed.
However, individuals with weaker immune systems cannot fight off the invading fungi as easily, meaning they have a higher risk of ringworm infections in any of the previously mentioned scenarios.
Under most circumstances, ringworm is fairly simple to prevent. Some steps you can take include
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