Ringworm can be passed from person to person and even animal to person.
Ringworm is actually a fungal infection, not a worm -- it is called such because of the appearance of the infection on the skin. This fungus attacks body, nails, foot and scalp, with each area producing specific characteristics. House pets and other animals are susceptible to infection and able to transmit ringworm to each other and to people. Both humans and animals spread ringworm directly and indirectly.
The Mayo Clinic defines ringworm as a fungal infection that produces a rash on the skin, typically appearing as a red circle. Ringworm of the body, technically referred to as tinea corporis, is related to tinea pedis (athlete's foot), tinea capitis (ringworm on the scalp) and tinea cruris (jock itch). The term tinea refers to the fungus, while the second Latin word stands for specific body areas. Tinea unguium (nail ringworm) does not exhibit the typical circular rash.
Tinea is also a fungus known as a dermatophyte. Four species found within dermatophytes contribute to a particular kind of tinea: Trichophyton rubrum, Trichophyton tonsurans, Trichophyton metagrophytes and Epidermophyton floccosum. Ringworm contracted by cats and dogs (Microsporum canis) is transferable to humans. Therefore, ringworm develops in different areas of the body by closely related species.
Tinea infections exhibit symptoms that vary in relation to body location. According to the University of Virginia Health System, these indicators don't always confirm the presence of dermatophytes because other skin problems sometimes display similar characteristics. Nevertheless, certain signs point toward the possibility of ringworm.
Symptoms of body ringworm develop anywhere between 4 to 10 days after initial contact. Flat circular rings, oftentimes irregular in shape, appear on the skin. Sometimes these patterns appear raised at the edges with the center skin area lighter in color. Itching accompanies tinea corporis. The first sign of scalp ringworm is a pimple. This develops anywhere between 10 to 14 days after initial infection. It expands into red scaly patches contributing to localized baldness at times and itching. Scalp ringworm predominately affects children aged 2 to 10 years.
The time it takes for the first symptoms to appear in the following types of ringworm is unknown. Jock itch or groin ringworm mostly affects males with symptoms that include red rings or patches, itching and sometimes pain. Athlete's foot or ringworm of the foot produces rash, scaling and at times blisters between the toes. Itching accommodates the symptoms that typically occur among male teens and adults. Ringworm of fingernails and toenails produces yellowish discoloration, deformity and thickening of the nail.
Dermatophytes are responsible for each category of ringworm. The contagious fungi are transferable. Various types of tinea attack specific areas of the body. The fungi infect the skin's outer layer and nails as it thrives in moist and warm areas. Highly susceptible bodily regions include the feet where ideal conditions involving darkness, sweat and warmth exist; hence the name athlete's foot. The groin area also provides conditions suitable for the fungus; thus, the name jock rash, derived from athletes prone to the infection by wearing a jockstrap. The underarms and feet also contribute to the growth of tinea.
The primary cause of ringworm infection occurs through transfer from human to human through direct contact. Combs, towels and other objects used by an infected person can also transfer ringworm. Likewise, grooming or petting infected animals and, in some cases, infected soil can transfer tinea to exposed hands and feet.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, mild ringworm cases often respond well to over-the-counter antifungal creams, such as clotrimazole, miconazole or terbinafine. These topical creams are usually applied directly to the affected skin once or twice a day for several weeks. For nail ringworm, ciclopirox is available as a lacquer; however, this treatment takes longer periods and does not always eradicate the problem.
Scalp infections and other areas that don't respond to topical creams may require an oral prescription such asitraconazole or terbinafine. Usually, body ringworm takes about a month to eliminate, while nails require longer treatments involving several months. Sometimes bacterial infection sets in. If this occurs, the doctor usually prescribes antibiotics.
Prevention involves reducing the chances of contracting ringworm. Unfortunately, a person can be contagious prior to symptoms developing. Nevertheless, simple procedures lessen the chance of infection. Practice good hygiene through hand washing, bathing, and changing socks and undergarments daily. Wear light clothing and stay dry during warm or humid weather. Refrain from sharing combs, brushes, shavers, towels and other items that easily transfer ringworm from one person to another. Avoid direct contact with infected people and pets.