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Myths & Facts About Ringworm

When you hear the term "ringworm," do you imagine a collection of tiny worms slithering around on your skin? Then you may have fallen prey to one of the many misconceptions about this common skin condition. In reality, ringworm is far less creepy than the name suggests.

In this article, we'll clear up some of the myths that continue to circulate about ringworm.

Myth 1: Ringworm is caused by a worm

Probably the most pervasive ringworm myth, this one stems from the condition's name. Despite its creepy-crawly name, ringworm (also called tinea) is not caused by any worm. The culprit is actually a group of fungi called dermatophytes, which can cause skin infections. Ringworm gets its name from the distinctive ring-like pattern the red spots often form on the skin.

Myth 2: Ringworm only affects the skin

Although ringworm often does appear on the skin, it can also show up on the fingernails or toenails. Ringworm of the nails doesn't create a ring-like pattern. Instead, it turns the nails thick, yellow, and brittle.

Myth 3: Everyone with ringworm develops red rings on their skin

Some people who are infected do develop the scaly red ring that gives the condition its name -- but not everyone. If you get ringworm infection, you will probably see bumpy red patches around your skin, but they won't necessarily take the shape of rings. On your scalp, ringworm may look more like a flaky red pimple than a ring.

Myth 4: Only children get ringworm

Children are more likely to get certain types of ringworm, but you can get infected with the fungus at any age.

Myth 5: Ringworm isn't contagious

In fact, the opposite is true. Ringworm spreads easily from person to person, especially in communal areas like locker rooms and neighborhood pools. Ringworm is so contagious, in fact, that you don't even have to touch someone to get infected. The fungus can linger in places like locker room floors, as well as on hats, combs, and brushes.

If you share an infected brush or comb, you can develop ringworm of the scalp. The highly contagious nature of the condition is why doctors recommend staying away from anyone who is infected, as well as their personal items.

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Myth 6: You'll see symptoms of ringworm right after you're infected

Ringworm has a long incubation period. The red rash can actually take a few days to appear on your skin. If you have ringworm of the scalp, you may not see any signs for a full two weeks after you were exposed.

Myth 7: You can't catch ringworm from your pet

Humans and their pets can share a number of diseases, including ringworm. Not only can you catch ringworm from your cat, dog, rabbit, or bird, but you can give it to your pet, too. That's why it's important to take your pet to the vet if you suspect ringworm. Keep infected pets away from your family -- as well as from other pets. And wash your hands with soap and warm water every time you touch your pet until the infection clears.

Myth 8: A flaky scalp is probably dandruff, not ringworm

Not necessarily. Sometimes ringworm of the scalp doesn't produce the signature ring. Instead, the skin becomes scaly and flaky, much like dandruff.

Myth 9: Only the infected person needs to be treated for ringworm

Because ringworm is so contagious, other people in the household may also need to be treated -- even if they don't have any symptoms. If there's a chance they may have picked up ringworm of the scalp, they may need to use a special shampoo and be examined to determine if there is an infection.

Myth 10: Ringworm is treated with antibiotics

Antibiotics kill bacteria. They won't work on ringworm, which is caused by a fungus. Ringworm is treated with antifungal medicines that you either rub on the skin or take by mouth. Ringworm of the scalp is treated with a special shampoo and an oral antifungal medicine. You may have to keep using whatever medicine you're prescribed for several weeks to fully get rid of the infection.

Myth 11: Once you get ringworm, you can't catch it again

It's common to get infected again, especially with ringworm of the nails.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on April 13, 2014

Sources

SOURCES: 

Nemours Foundation: "Ringworm."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: "Ringworm Myth-Busters."

ASPCA: "Ringworm."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Ringworm."

Wisconsin Department of Health Services: "Ringworm."

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