Despite what its name seems to imply, ringworm is NOT caused by worms. It actually comes from fungi, microorganisms that can only affect your skin. Fungi feed on keratin, a skin-specific protein.1 They thrive in humid environments, but some species can be obtained from animals and soil.2 The medical term for ringworm is "tinea," and the different types are classified further depending on the area that is affected, namely:
Tinea corporis (torso, arms, and/or legs)
Tinea pedis (feet)
Tinea faciei (face)
Tinea barbae (facial hair area)
Tinea cruris (groin area)
Tinea capitis (scalp)
Tinea unguium (fingernails and/or toenails)
Tinea incognito (worsened ringworm due to topical steroid cream)
Ringworm Is Contagious
Anyone can get ringworm, but children, pet owners and those with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of getting the disease. If you belong to any of those groups, pay attention to where you can get ringworm, such as:3,4
Direct contact with ringworm-infected skin of another person
Touching common household items that came into contact with fungi, such as towels, clothes and furniture
Playing with animals such as cats and dogs that carry fungi. When this happens, it is classified as a zoonotic disease (transfer of disease from animals to humans).
Handling or touching infected soil
Using public showers and locker rooms
Participating in contact sports such as wrestling (athletes are more susceptible to ringworm)
Getting minor skin and/or nail injuries
Not bathing often
Having wet skin for an extended period of time
The incubation period for ringworm before symptoms appear depends on the circumstances. The New York State Department of Health notes that tinea capitis usually appears 10 to 14 days after initial contact, while tinea corporis manifests four to 10 days after initial contact.5
Based on the findings, two weeks may be the average duration before ringworm symptoms appear. In the event symptoms do appear, try to recall what might have caused your ringworm and isolate it from your surroundings to prevent it from infecting other people. If your pets are the cause for ringworm, take them to your veterinarian right away.
Ringworm Can Be Itchy, but Don't Scratch It!
When red spots appear, they can become itchy. When that happens, resist the urge to scratch your skin, because the fungi can transfer to your fingernails, possibly causing tinea unguium.6 During the incubation period, it might even spread to other uninfected areas. Carelessness is a cause for unwanted spreading of ringworm, so be mindful of where you place your hands.
Your Furry Pal Might Have Ringworm, Too
Your pets can catch ringworm as well, either through contact with another infected pet or playing in infected soil.7 The symptoms of animal ringworm are similar to humans, such as circular bald spots that may look red in the center.8
In a mild case of animal ringworm, symptoms will appear on your pet’s paws, forelimbs, ears or head only.9 For a severe case, it will appear all over the body. Either way, you need to take your pet to the veterinarian immediately to have him examined and treated, or else fungi may spread to you and your family members.10
In the event that happens, inform your household that your pet has a contagious disease, and avoid contact with them and their belongings (including his bedding and toys) until he’s been treated successfully.