Ringworm

Cause

Many different species of fungus.

Description

Ringworm is a term used for a range of fungal skin infections of animals and people. The different types of fungus produce slightly different diseases and affect different hosts.

The term 'ringworm' is derived from the characteristic red ring that appears on the skin when ringworm is present. It begins as one or more small round red spots which become larger and then the centre begins to clear. It then appears as a ring-shaped irritation with a slightly elevated scaly border and a patchy pale centre. No actual 'worm' is involved.

Where the disease occurs

Ringworm occurs worldwide and is common in Queensland.

The disease in animals

Ringworm can occur in all farm animals, horses, dogs and cats. It is more common in animals that are kept closer together in animal accommodation but can occur in animals at pasture. Classical ringworm lesions are usually seen and irritation and itching can occur.

Control of the disease in animals

Topical creams and oral anti-fungal treatments are available for animals.

How people can get the disease

Ringworm can affect anyone. In a lifetime, people have a 20-30% risk of developing an infection.

Ringworm is highly contagious and can be contracted from other people or animals that are infected. Direct contact is not necessary as the fungus can remain alive for many months on bedding, grooming implements and animal housing. It is common to find lesions on warm, moist areas of the body (e.g. feet, armpits, groin); although lesions have the potential to form anywhere on the body

Lesions take approximately one to three weeks to develop after contact with the fungal agent. Lesions in people are commonly red in colour and either dry and scaly or moist and crusty in appearance.

People with an impaired immune system are at greater risk of developing an infection (e.g. HIV/AIDS, diabetes or leukaemia). Young people are usually at a greater risk due to their greater susceptibility and increased opportunities to contact other affected children. Those who handle puppies or kittens are at increased risk of infection. Warmer, more humid climates encourage fungal growth.

Treatments for people

Topical anti-fungal creams are a highly effective treatment option. Severe infections may require additional oral anti-fungal treatment (e.g. griseofulvan or itraconazole).

Preventing the disease in people
  • Avoid close contact with animals
  • Take special care when handling animals with skin conditions
  • Do not share clothing, towels or headwear with other people
  • Be observant and seek treatment quickly even if small ringworm lesions appear

Further information

Last updated 27 September 2012