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Ringworm

This page was reviewed or revised on Friday, October 28, 2011 12:10 PM

What causes it?

Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin. It is not a worm. It can be caused by several different organisms which affect different parts of the body and cause various types of ringworm:

  • ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) 
  • ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) 
  • ringworm of the foot (tinea pedis or "athlete's foot") 
  • ringworm of the nails (tinea unguium) 
  • ringworm of the groin (tinea cruris or "jock itch")

It is called ringworm because the skin rash is most often round or oval with a raised border.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of ringworm vary depending on the part of the body that is infected:

  • Ringworm of the scalp usually begins as a small pimple that becomes larger, leaving scaly patches of temporary baldness. Yellowish crusty areas sometimes develop.
  • Ringworm of the body is a flat, round patch anywhere on the skin except for the scalp and feet. As the rash gradually expands, its centre clears to produce a ring. More than one patch can occur and patches can overlap. It is sometime itchy. 
  • Ringworm of the foot, or "athlete's foot", appears as itching, scaling and blisters which can lead to cracking of the skin, especially between the toes. 
  • Ringworm of the nails appears as thick, discoloured, and brittle nails, or the affected nails may become chalky and disintegrate.

What can I do?

  • Contact your physician if you notice any signs/symptoms of ringworm.
  • Personal hygiene/hand washing. 
  • Do not share personal belongings such as hairbrush and combs, towels, face cloths. 
  • You should not return to work/school until treatment is initiated.

Treatment

Ringworm can be cured with antifungal medication. Some medications are taken by mouth. Others are ointments or creams that are spread on the infected area.

How is ringworm spread?

  • Direct skin contact with an infected person or infected pet. 
  • Indirect contact with an object or surface that has been contaminated by an infected person (hats, combs, brushes, bed linens, stuffed animals, gym mats, and sleeping cots).

How can I prevent ringworm?

  • Ringworm is difficult to prevent. The fungus is common, and it is contagious before symptoms appear. 
  • Thorough hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of infections. 
  • Ensure all infected persons are appropriately treated. 
  • Do not share personal items such as towels, clothing, hats or hairbrushes. 
  • Clean and sanitize common use areas, especially in schools and child care centres. Use a disinfectant that is labelled to kill fungi (fungicide). Follow the instructions carefully, and leave the disinfectant on the surface for the minimum amount of time the label advises. 
  • Regular cleaning schedules in schools and child care should be enhanced during the time of a ringworm outbreak. 
  • A household bleach solution (approximately 500 ppm) is recommended to be used and can be prepared by mixing 62 ml (1.4 cup) household bleach to 6138 ml (24 3.4 cups) water.

Daycare/school exclusions:

Children do not need to be excluded but should avoid contact sports, activities that share equipment and swimming until the infection has been treated to prevent the spread of infection to others.

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