Fungal Infections: Fungal Infections of the Skin

Fungal Infections of the Skin

Fungi that commonly cause skin diseases are called dermatophytes. “Dermatophytes” doesn't refer to a particular group of fungi, but rather to the fact that they attack the dermis, or skin. Fungal infections of the skin can be treated with topical creams as well as prescription drugs.

Athlete's Foot

The best-known fungal skin infection is athlete's foot. It infects approximately 10 percent of the United States population. It is most common among adolescents and adults; however, it may affect people of any age.

Athlete's foot can grow on the feet in different forms, including the following:

  • Interdigital: Infection occurs between the toes, with scaling, fissuring, or softened skin.
  • Moccasin: The fungi grows as a thick scaling over the entire sole of the foot (like a moccasin) and causes discomfort.
  • Vesicular: The fungi appear as small, itchy blisters near the instep.
  • Ulcerative: The infection involves peeling, oozing discharge, and a strong odor that usually starts as red, itchy swelling between the toes.

A good way to combat athlete's foot is to keep feet clean and dry. Topical powders or creams may also help to control infection. Unfortunately, athlete's foot is tough to eliminate and often comes back.

Scalp Itch

Scalp itch is a fungal infection of the scalp and hair. It usually occurs in young children, but may appear in all age groups. It is contagious and may be spread from child to child in a school or day care setting.

A fungal infection of the toenail.

A fungal infection of the toenail. (Courtesy CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr.)

An antifungal drug called riseofulvin cures scalp itch in one to three months.

Nail Fungus

Nail fungus is most common in adolescents and adults, especially among people who have frequent manicures. These infections can manifest themselves in a variety of patterns. Sometimes a portion of the nail becomes thick and brittle. Other times, the fungi attack the cuticle and the growth spreads out from there. This cuticle-based infection is common in AIDS patients.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dangerous Diseases and Epidemics © 2002 by David Perlin, Ph.D., and Ann Cohen. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.