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What is ringworm? Certainly not a worm! Ringworm is a contagious disorder of the skin or hair caused by a fungal infection.
Scalp ringworm is also called tinea capitis. As a rule, fungi will only infect the scalps of preadolescents. This is because at puberty the scalp oil glands begin to secrete substances that inhibit growth of virulent organisms. In other words, immunity to most fungal scalp infections is in place by the time one reaches junior high school.
Patchy areas of hair loss containing broken, fragmented hairs characterize tinea capitis. In more severe cases, these areas may contain scales and even pus-filled pimples. Ringworm is spread from person to person or may be caught from household pets, especially puppies and kittens.
Ringworm of the non-hairy skin, although more common in children, may also occur in adults. The causative fungi live on humans, animals, and soil. Body ringworm, medically called tinea corporis, is characterized by red, scaly, circular patches that frequently itch. These patches characteristically have clear centers, hence the ringlike appearance. Tinea corporis may be spread by contact with pets and someone already infected.
A variety of fungi cause tinea.
Ringworm of the scalp is most commonly treated by the family physician, pediatrician, or dermatologist. Because the disorder is contagious to other children and may lead to permanent hair loss if left unchecked, treatment should commence as soon as the diagnosis is made. Scalp ringworm is treated with an oral medicine called griseofulvin, available in pill or liquid form. Therapy with this drug must continue for at least six weeks. In 2007 the FDA approved the drug Lamisil, in the form of granules that can be sprinkled on food, for the treatment of scalp ringworm.
Nonprescription creams containing clotrimazole (Lotrimin), miconazole (Micatin), and terbinafine (Lamisil) are usually curative for tinea corporis, although more extensive cases may require oral antifungal therapy as well.