The condition can be spread not only by direct contact between two children but also by indirect contact through inanimate objects. So a child can pick up the fungus by sharing a hat or hairbrush of an infected pal, or even by sitting in a seat recently used by a child carrying the fungus.
Also, some suspect the disease is spread through barbershops, so parents should make sure that the barbers who cut their children's hair sterilize combs, scissors, clippers, and other equipment.
Ringworm of the scalp is increasing quickly enough in the U.S. to warrant a conference on the matter. Sponsored by the UAB department of dermatology, the conference took place in Savannah, Ga., this past weekend and brought together experts from all over the country. Elewski helped moderate the meeting.
"This is just a little fungus that we don't think much about," she says, "but if it affects you or your family members, it can be a nightmare."
For instance, Elewski says, untreated ringworm of the scalp can lead to permanent patches of baldness. Also, children with severe infections may go through periods of feeling unwell, which can affect school performance.
The primary treatment for ringworm of the scalp is an antifungal drug called griseofulvin (brand names include Fulvicin, Grifulvin, and Grisactin). It must be taken orally for at least eight weeks and until all symptoms disappear.
Although hair may take some time to grow back, don't stop giving your child the medication until all flaking, scaling, and pimples are all gone. There are other antifungals available to try if griseofulvin doesn't work, but they are not yet officially approved for this condition or for use in children.
If your child must be treated for ringworm of the scalp, consider getting the whole family treated. It's very possible that your child has passed it on to siblings or parents. In fact, experts recommend that when two or more children in a classroom are diagnosed with this disease, the parents of all the other children should be informed, so they can have their own children checked out.