Ringworm not a worm, but a fungus

Living in a warm, moist climate like Hawaii can have its benefits: hydrated skin, a year-round wardrobe, and a sense of calm well-being.

There are some drawbacks however. The climate so many cherish is also host to many organisms, some of which are quite contagious, such as ringworm.


You may have seen the telltale signs of ringworm. It is a clearly outlined, often a scaly patch with a ring around it. They may be slightly red or dark and are most often itchy. It can be found anywhere on the body, from scalp to toes. One patch might be healing as another appears. They can be as small as a penny or even as big as a credit card.

For those of you who are squeamish, rest assured, ringworm is not caused by a worm at all. Ringworm, called tinea corporis, is caused by a fungus. Tinea corporis comes from medieval Latin. Tinea means a moth or clothing worm that makes holes (they didn’t know it is was a fungus back then) and corporis means on the body. Other kinds of fungus that are closely related, named for the parts of the body on which they are found are tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), tinea capitis (scalp), and tinea cruria (jock itch) to name a few.

How can I get it?

Ringworm can be spread from person to person (anthropophilic), from animal to person (zoophilic), soil to person (geophilic). It can also be spread through contact with wet surfaces such as shower floors or locker rooms or sharing fabrics that may hold moisture such as towels or seat covers. Sweating during exercise or in warm weather can set up the perfect environment near the skin for it to thrive.

Of course, touching the patches of a person who is infected is a likely way to get it yourself. Playing in moist warm soil or even gardening can put a person at risk of contracting ringworm. Those who work closely with animals who are untreated and may have ringworm are susceptible.

How can I find out if I have it?

Your doctor will look at the sore and ask you questions to gather information about where you might have been exposed to it. She may then take a painless scraping of the superficial cells to look at them under a microscope. Some human and animal healthcare providers have a UV light called a Wood’s lamp that illuminates fungus, bacteria or other skin disorders.

How do I get rid of it?

Apply a topical antifungal. Most cases can be treated with over-the-counter creams.

Let the patches breathe when you are not going to be in contact with people or surfaces.

Wash all worn clothing and bedding after each use.

Take a prescription antifungal if your health care provider deems it necessary.

How to prevent it?

Especially in the summer months, be diligent about keeping clothing dry and clean. Remove wet clothing as soon as possible. Treat your pets and be diligent about hand washing hygiene when around other animals such as on a farm. Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, rodents, rabbits and birds, as well as cats and dogs can all be affected. Maintaining a strong, well-functioning immune system will help the body protect itself and recover if infected.


The most important thing you can do for friends, family, co-workers and pets is to keep ringworm from spreading. If your job entails close contact with people or animals (sports coach, massage therapist, farmer, chef) take extra precautions to reduce the likelihood of exposure. Your efforts can help reduce the spread in your community.

Dr. Shanon Sidell is a licensed naturopathic physician and acupuncturist.

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