Ringworm of the body is a skin infection caused by a fungus.
“Ringworm” is a misnomer—the infection has nothing to do with worms. Its name comes from the small, ring- or circle-shaped rash that appears on the body due to infection. In ringworm of the body, the rashes appear on skin regions except for the scalp, groin, palms of the hand, and soles of the feet.
The condition is common and highly contagious, but is not serious. It is also sometimes referred to as “tinea corporis”—after the the type of fungus that causes the infection.
A group of fungi called dermatophytes cause ringworm. Dermatophytes live off a substance called keratin, a tissue found in many parts of a person’s body, including the nails, skin, and hair. In ringworm of the body, the fungus infects the skin.
Ringworm of the body is also called tinea corporis (the specific dermatophyte is tinea). Other related ringworm fungal infections have similar names, including:
Symptoms of ringworm of the body usually start about four to 10 days after contact with the fungus.
Ringworm of the body looks like ring- or circular-shaped rashes with edges that are slightly raised. The skin in the middle of these ring-shaped rashes appears healthy. Usually, the rashes are itchy. They will spread over the course of the infection
Symptoms of a more severe infection include rings that multiply and merge together. You may also develop blisters and pus-filled sores near the rings.
A ringworm infection can be spread in many direct and indirect ways, including:
- person to person: direct contact with the skin of a person infected with ringworm
- pet/animal to person: direct contact with an infected pet. Both dogs and cats can spread the infection to people. Ferrets, horses, rabbits, goats, and pigs can also spread ringworm to people.
- inanimate item to person: indirect contact with objects, including hair of an infected person, bedding, clothing, shower stalls, and floors
- soil to person: rarely, a ringworm infection can be spread through contact with highly infected soil for an extended amount of time
Children are more prone to infection by ringworm of the body compared with adults. However, pretty much everyone has some risk for being infected. According to the National Health Service of the United Kingdom, about 10 to 20 percent of people will be infected by a fungus at some point in their lives (NHS, 2011).
Factors that may increase your risk include:
- living in damp or humid areas
- excessive sweating
- participating in contact sports
- wearing tight clothing
- having a weak immune system
- sharing clothing, bedding, or towels with others
If your doctor suspects that you may have ringworm, he or she will examine the skin and may do some tests to rule out other skin conditions not caused by fungus, like atopic dermatitis or psoriasis. Usually a skin examination will result in a diagnosis.
He or she may also observe skin scrapings from the affected area under a microscope to look for fungus. A sample may be sent to a laboratory for confirmation. The laboratory may perform a culture test to see if fungus grows.
Over-the-counter topical fungicidal medications are usually enough to treat the infection. The medication may be in the form of a powder, ointment, or cream. It is applied directly to the affected areas of the skin. These include the over-the-counter brands like:
- clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF)
- miconazole (Micatin)
- terbinafine (Lamisil)
- tolfaftate (Tinactin)
Your pharmacist can help you choose which one is right for you.
If the ringworm of the body is widespread, severe, or does not respond to the above medicines, your doctor may prescribe a stronger topical medication or a fungicidal that you take by mouth. Griseofulvin is a commonly prescribed oral treatment for fungal infections (NYS Department of Health, 2011).
The infection is not serious and will rarely, if ever, spread below the surface of the skin. However, people with a weakened immune system, such as people infected with HIV or AIDS, may have trouble getting rid of the infection.
As with other types of skin infections and conditions, itchy, irritated, and/or broken skin can lead to secondary bacterial infections that may need treatment with antibiotics.
Ringworm of the body can be prevented by avoiding contact with an infected person. This includes both indirect and direct contact with that person.
The following precautions should be taken:
- avoid sharing towels, hats, hairbrushes, and clothing with an infected person
- take your pet to see a vet if a ringworm infection is suspected
- if you are infected, be sure to maintain good personal hygiene around other people and avoid scratching the affected areas of your skin
- after a shower dry your skin well especially between the toes and where skin touches skin such as in the groin and armpits.