Ringworm

Originally Published: March 21, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 18, 2011
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Dear Alice,

I have obtained ringworm from my kitten! What is the best treatment for me to get rid of it and stop the itching?

Dear Reader,

It's definitely time to ditch that itch! Ringworm is a skin disease that is not caused by worms, but by fungus. Who would have thought? There are several types of ringworm. You can have ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) or ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis), for example. Ringworm of the body is also closely related to other common fungal infections such as athlete's foot.

Early recognition and treatment of a fungal infection is ideal. It is also important for you to know that in order for treatment to be successful in combating a fungal infection, you must complete the full treatment regimen, regardless of early signs of improvement. If you are uncertain whether what you have is a fungal infection, then see a dermatologist or primary care provider for a proper diagnosis. For example, what may look like ringworm could actually be something else, such as psoriasis, eczema, or dandruff, all of which would require different treatments.

If you do have a fungal infection, appropriate antifungal treatment depends on the particular kind of fungal infection you have. The medications listed below, both oral and those that are applied directly to the skin, are seen as effective, well-tolerated, and considered safe. These include:

  • Sporanox, an oral medication.
  • Lamisil, which is effective locally, especially for nail fungus. (For body ringworm and fungal infections of the nails, feet, and toes, topical antifungal medications, in the forms of creams and powders, are recommended).
  • Selenium sulfide shampoo or lotion (usually only available by prescription) help destroy fungal spores and may speed up the treatment process.
  • Selenium sulfide lotion may also be used as a preventive measure by individuals who are exposed.
  • You may need a prescription, but ask your health care provider because over-the-counter (OTC) treatment can be effective. If so, look for one that contains miconazoles or clotrimazoles and that does not have cortisone. Adhere to the directions for use that are indicated on the package.

Ringworm is contagious and is transmitted via fungal agents by direct skin-to-skin contact with infected individuals and pets (your cat, for instance), and by indirect contact with personal items used by infected individuals, such as combs, brushes, hats, bed sheets, floors, and bathtubs. Considering the contagious and infectious nature of ringworm, anyone is susceptible. In addition, athletes participating in contact sports, such as wrestling and football, are at higher risk. Appropriate precautions must be taken to avoid infection, spread, and re-infection, such as showering after each sports play, regularly washing contacted surfaces, laundering clothes after every sports activity, avoiding clothes- and towel-sharing, and being aware of who is infected on the team.

Symptoms of fungal infections differ by variety, though all of them could involve itching, which may be extreme in some cases.

  • Scalp ringworm usually includes redness, small, pimple-like bumps, and skin flakes that enlarge and become scaly. These ringworm patches appear hairless, or have broken hair shafts, because infected hairs are easily broken off. These affected areas of the scalp are bald only temporarily if treated before infection becomes severe.
  • Body ringworm typically appears as ring-shaped patches. The patches have a flat and clear center with a raised red border that can appear either dry and scaly, or moist and crusty. More than one patch can develop, and there could also be some overlap. 
  • Fungal infection of the nails typically results in changes in nail color, thickness, and strength. Infected nails discolor, thicken, and break easily. For a fungal infection of the feet, look for dry, scaly, and/or cracked skin, particularly between the toes.

In the meantime, to reduce the spread of ringworm to others, and potentially to other parts of your body, wear something over the infected areas. Also make sure that your kitten sees a veterinarian to get treatment, as well. Other people living in your home that may have been exposed to ringworm should probably also pay a visit to a doctor.

Here's to resuming kitten cuddling,

Alice