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Ringworm is probably one of the most misunderstood skin conditions – starting with the misconception that it is caused by an actual worm. Understood or not, ringworm is out there, and it’s more common than you think.
Since ringworm can affect both people and pets, North Shore Animal League America would like to spread a little light on this confusing and misinterpreted ailment.
What is Ringworm?
Ringworm, or its technical name, tinea, is a severely infectious, superficial skin condition caused by fungi called dermatophytes, which can get into the skin and live off of dead skin tissue. Ringworm usually causes an itchy rash. It is typically characterized by a red ring of small blisters or a red ring of scaly skin, hence giving it its name; however, sometimes it may just appear as a red blotch. As the infection grows, the ring will spread, and it can be quite difficult to contain and cure. On animals and on the scalp, ringworm is accompanied by circular pattern hair loss as well.
Ringworm is highly contagious and spreads through skin-to-skin contact. It can be given from person to person, pet to person, person to pet, pet to pet and can even be spread from place to place on one’s own body. It’s important to note that the young, elderly, and immune-compromised are at a greater risk of contracting ringworm from their pets. Ringworm can also be spread from object to person – towels, hats, clothing and even combs and brushes can easily transmit the infection.
Ringworm Diagnosis and Treatment
Some textbook cases of Ringworm can be diagnosed visually. But some may need a diagnostic process including ultraviolet lights and skin cultures. For people, Ringworm can usually be treated at home with a topical, over-the-counter cream, however stubborn cases and those infected with bacteria may need prescribed antibiotics. In pets, ringworm can be more difficult to detect. They will likely experience hair loss and itchiness in the infected areas, which may or may not manifest in a circular pattern. Topical shampoos are usually used to treat the skin and the hairs that may be holding the contagious fungi. Anti-fungal creams can be topically applied to the lesions, and in some cases, oral anti-fungal medications. Treatment can be long and difficult often taking 3-6 weeks to fully resolve a case, so best to be patient, follow doctor’s orders and try to prevent contracting it altogether.
Since fungi are everywhere, prevention can be a challenge. Some animals can be carriers without showing signs of the infection and still transmit the fungi to others. The best route against ringworm prevention is to keep your pet clean and healthy – making sure he has a strong immune system. Keeping cats strictly indoors reduces their risks. Both you and your pet have well-designed systems to fight off illness and to battle it once its present. Starting with a strong defense system will lessen chances of illness for both you and your pet. Diet, stress and exercise, play the biggest roles in determining whether pets get sick or stay healthy.
If you suspect that you or your pet may have ringworm, contact your doctor or veterinarian immediately.
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