SALT LAKE CITY — Ringworm. Just the name of this infection is enough to make you feel squirmy, but it really has nothing to do with actual worms.
What it is and how it’s spread
Ringworm is a very contagious fungal infection on the surface of the skin. It appears as a scaly, red ring of small blisters, which may or may not itch, and grows outward as the infection spreads. The fungus lives off of dead tissues of your skin, hair and nails.
Typically, the fungus is spread through skin contact, but you can also become infected through skin-to-surface contact. Outbreaks are especially common in “communal areas like locker rooms and neighborhood pools,” according to WebMD, because “the fungus can linger in places like locker room floors, as well as on hats, combs and brushes.”
Dogs and cats infected with ringworm can also pass it to people through direct contact.
While ringworm can and does affect all age groups, the Mayo Clinic lists the following groups as most likely to become infected with the fungus: children under the age of 15, people with weak immune systems, those who live in damp or humid conditions, and athletes who participate in close-contact sports.
What to do if you’ve got it
If you suspect you may have ringworm, you should consult your health care provider. He or she will probably recognize ringworm's characteristic rash immediately, but WebMD lists the following things a doctor may also do to ensure an accurate diagnosis:
- Use a special light that can detect traces of fluorescent materials that occur in a ringworm infection.
- Scrape a small sample of the affected area and review the sample under a microscope.
- Obtain a culture to identify the organism and medication needed for treatment.
- Blue Star Ointment
- Liquid wart remover
- Dermovate cream
- Neem oil
- Black walnut extract
- Selsun Blue shampoo
- Tea tree oil
- Lotrimin Ultra cream
- Prescription Lamisil or Nizoral
- Prescription 2 percent ketoconazole shampoo
- Home remedy: mix equal amounts sulphur and lard and apply to the infected area
How to avoid getting it
As with most ailments, prevention is your best option. When dealing with ringworm, that means good personal hygiene. Wash your hands when you leave a locker room or swimming pool; don’t share personal items — such as hats, combs and clothing; and avoid physical contact with infected people.
Suzanne Carlile, "Nurse Suzy," has been a nurse since 1982. Her main focus is critical care and nursing education. She holds a master's degree in nursing, is a Certified Emergency Nurse, and a member of NNSDO Intermountain West Chapter.