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Skin problems health centre

Ringworm - Introduction

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Ringworm is a common and highly infectious skin infection that causes a ring-like red rash on the skin.

The rash can appear almost anywhere on the body, with the scalp, feet and groin being common sites.

The condition, medically known as "tinea", isn't serious and is usually easily treated using creams sold by the pharmacy. However, ringworm is highly contagious and easily spread among people.

Despite its name, it doesn't have anything to do with worms. It's an infection of the skin caused by a fungus.

When to see a doctor

You need to see your GP if you or your child have ringworm of the scalp. This type of ringworm is treated with antifungal tablets only available on prescription.

Other types of ringworm are generally treated with antifungal cream from the pharmacy and you don't need to see a doctor unless the infection persists. However, pharmacists often prefer children to see a GP to confirm a diagnosis.

Read more about ringworm symptoms.

How do you get ringworm?

Ringworm is passed between people through direct skin contact and by sharing objects such as towels, hairbrushes and bedding.

Pets such as dogs and cats can have ringworm, which they can pass on to people they come into contact with.

Read more about the causes of ringworm.

Who is affected?

Ringworm is common. It's estimated that 10-20% of people will have a fungal skin infection at some point during their lifetime.

People of all ages can be affected by ringworm, but children are particularly susceptible to it.

Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) is most common in children who have not reached puberty (sexual maturity), particularly African-Caribbean children and those who live in urban areas.

Body ringworm can affect anyone of any age, although groin infections are more common in young men.

Treating ringworm

Most cases of ringworm are mild and can be treated using a pharmacy antifungal cream.

Scalp ringworm can be treated with antifungal tablets, sometimes combined with antifungal shampoo.

Sometimes, if ringworm leaves the skin irritated or broken it can lead to other bacterial infections, which may need treatment with antibiotics.

Read more about how to treat ringworm.

Stopping it spreading

It's really important, where possible, to prevent spreading the infection. You should avoid sharing towels, bedding or clothes with anyone diagnosed with ringworm.

If you think your pet has ringworm, take it to the vet. If your pet is treated quickly, you will be less likely to catch the infection from it.

If your child has ringworm, they do not need to stay off school. However, you should inform the school your child has the condition. In addition to treatment, your child should maintain a good level of personal hygiene to prevent the infection spreading.

Read more about how to stop the spread of ringworm.

Medical Review: March 14, 2013
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