Fungi is one of the most prolific forms of life on the planet, with millions of species known to exist. Only 300 or so cause illness in people, but they can sometimes produce serious, even life-threatening infections in patients. People with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to fungal infections, which includes those suffering from other infections, the very young and the elderly. With the help of a healthcare provider, fungal infections can often be addressed with little complication. And as the most common fungal infections only involve the skin, they don’t require invasive treatment to manage.
Who is most at risk of developing a skin fungus infection?
Skin fungus is everywhere, and it’s extremely contagious. Incidental contact with such fungus is often enough to produce an infection, and people suffering from a fungal infection on the skin can pass it to other people. But even though fungi is contagious to everyone, it is especially communicable for some populations. They include:
- People taking antibiotics long term – This also includes patients who are taking high doses of antibiotics and patients taking some forms of steroids. Patients who experience a sudden change in their treatment regimen may also experience a weakened immune system, and fungi can take advantage of this.
- People who have issues with circulation – Reduced circulation makes it tougher for the body to clear out infection as soon as it enters the body. People suffering from diabetes are among the most susceptible to all forms of skin infection, including fungal infections. Obese patients have the same problem with circulation and can develop fungal infections that go undetected for some time.
- People who sweat profusely or have poor hygiene – Fungi thrives in dark, moist, warm areas, which means that it develops on skin that is regularly exposed to sweat. Poor hygiene can also allow fungi to fester on the skin long enough to produce an infection.
- People who have mobility conditions or are incontinent – Moisture, again, is an essential element in fungal reproduction, so patients who suffer from incontinence can have issues with fungi. Without the ability to reliably relieve themselves, moisture can get trapped in clothing or on the skin in incontinent patients. Patients with loss of mobility can experience similar issues with moisture trapping.
- People who live in densely populated living facilities – As fungi spreads quickly from person to person, more people in tighter confines means skin infections spread faster and further. This is particularly true in living areas where people share hygiene facilities, as the fungi can survive for some time on floors and towels.
That’s who is at most risk of contracting a skin fungus. But what are the most common types of fungi, and what symptoms do they produce?
The most common forms of skin fungus infections
Fungi comes in an incredible variety of forms, but it generally infects skin that is constantly exposed to moisture and warmth. Nearly all fungal infections cause redness and irritation, but some produce additional symptoms. And in rare instances, fungal infections can progress and produce symptoms like fever and fatigue. This normally only occurs in patients with badly suppressed immune systems.
The most common forms of fungal infections include athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm and candida (or yeast infection). Here are the specifics on each:
1. Athlete’s foot – Athlete’s foot comes in three forms – interdigital, moccasin and vesicular. Interdigital infections affect the toes and the skin between them, which is why it is referred to as a “toe web infection.” It usually affects the smaller toes and can present with itching, burning and scaling. If not treated, interdigital infections can spread to the bottom of the foot.
Moccasin infections affects the bottom of the foot first, though it can spread to the sides of the foot with time. It presents with irritation, itching, scaling and dryness, and symptoms worsen with time.to the point where the skin may crack.
Vesicular infections are the least common and first present with small, fluid filled blisters. These blisters typically appear on the bottom of the foot, though they can also show up on the heel, the top of the foot or between the toes.
2. Jock itch – Jock itch, medically referred to as tinea cruris, is caused by a fungus that grows aggressively in warm, moist and dark areas. As such, jock itch almost always infects the skin around the buttocks, genitals or inner thighs. It is also more common during humid, summer months. Fortunately, it’s only mildly contagious and only spreads with direct contact with the infected skin.
Jock itch presents with redness, irritation, itching, chafing and a raised, round rash. It can spread to uninfected skin, but the symptoms do not worsen with time.
3. Ringworm – Ringworm, medically referred to as tinea corporis, has nothing to do with a worm at all, but is instead caused by a fungus. It presents with a red, irritated rash that looks like a round worm under the skin, though some cases will not come with the characteristic round rash. Ringworm is extremely contagious and can spread through direct contact or with contact with clothing or furniture that have been touched by infected skin.
4. Candida – Candida produces yeast infections, and though they are not contagious, they can cause fever-like symptoms in people with weakened immune systems. Candida rashes are red and itchy, and may produce scaling as well. Candida can also cause diaper rash or a condition known as thrush, which is the result of an oral candida infection.
Fungal infections are best handled with prevention. Good hygiene, washing clothing regularly and wearing bath sandals in common bathroom or pool areas can go a long way in preventing skin fungus.
A healthcare provider can treat skin fungus, typically with a prescribed medicated antifungal cream that is formulated for the particular fungal species. Changes in lifestyle or an antibiotic regimen may be indicated if fungal infections become chronic. Vaginal yeast infections require medicated suppositories and thrush can be treated with medicated mouthwashes or lozenges. But in nearly every case, the condition can be immediately limited and neutralized with medical attention.