A child in my daughter’s camp group was diagnosed with ringworm.  What is this and can she get it?

Also known as a tinea infection, ringworm is a type of fungus that infects the skin, scalp, or nails.  It is also commonly known as athlete’s foot when it occurs on the feet.  When this occurs on the skin, it usually first appears as a small raised itchy area that is frequently red in color.  Following the initial appearance on the skin, the tinea, or ringworm begins to spread out in a circular pattern forming the classic “ring” with a reddish raised edge that often looks scaly and has a flat center which is clear to slightly less red in color.  The appearance of this fungal infection is said to look like a worm, but do not fear, there is NOT a worm in your child’s skin!

Typically, it takes up to 2 weeks from the time your child is exposed to the fungus for symptoms to first appear.  The most common symptom aside from the red appearing ring is itching.  Ringworm which occurs on the scalp can also be noticed by an area of hair loss where the infection is located.

Ringworm does not cause fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.

This infection can affect all age groups, including adults, and is typically spread by contact with another person who has the skin infection or by coming in contact with a surface harboring the fungus.  Surfaces which harbor the fungus most often are warm, moist environments, such as a shower stall, bathroom floor, towels, or gym mats.

Additionally, this infection can be spread by pets. If your child has this infection, it is important to check the skin of your pet for signs of the infection, often seen where an patch of hair is missing.

Ringworm is common in children who participate in karate, judo, wrestling, football, or gymnastics (all sports which use gym mats or have skin to skin contact).

Tip: Ask if your child’s activity areas, including mats, are washed and dried daily.

Tip: Do not share towels.  Make sure your child has their own towel to use after they participate in athletic events or swimming.

Prevent: Using clean equipment and having your child wash with soap and water soon after their activities can lessen the chance of getting ringworm.

If you believe your child may have a rash on their skin which is suspicious for ringworm, they should be evaluated by their pediatrician.  Ringworm on the skin is usually treated with topical (cream) anti-fungal medication or in some cases, a medication taken by mouth, both of which can be prescribed by your pediatrician.  Ringworm occurring on the scalp or nail beds usually requires a medication taken by mouth which is also prescribed by your child’s physician.

Many rashes/infections can look alike.  You should not attempt to treat any suspicious rash without prior examination by a physician.

It is very important to follow the instructions given by your pediatrician for use of ringworm medications as the ringworm will occasionally disappear within days to weeks, but can recur if the medication is not applied for the full course of treatment which can be 2-4 weeks or longer, depending on the mediation prescribed.

For more information on ringworm or other types of skin infections, please consult with your physician.