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How Common is Ringworm in Children?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ringworm, sometimes called tinea or dermatophytosis, is a common and highly contagious fungal skin infection that is so named because the most visible symptom is an itchy, red, ring-shaped skin rash. Different kinds of fungi can cause different types of ringworm, and the condition is often divided into two main types: scalp ringworm, which affects the hair and scalp, and body ringworm, which can affect almost any part of the body. A large study done on ringworm in children in Kansas City, Missouri, showed that 7% of the students in kindergarten to grade 1 were infected with scalp ringworm. Ringworm in children can be treated with non-prescription anti-fungal creams in cases of body ringworm, or shampoos containing either selenium sulfate or zinc pyrithine in cases of scalp ringworm. In severe cases, one should see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

It is hard to know exactly how common ringworm in children is, because only a small percentage of those affected seek medical treatment and are properly diagnosed. Also, a fungal infection of this kind often heals by itself without any medical treatment, or can be successfully cured with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams and shampoos. However, medical authorities in the United States estimate that between 20% to 80% of the country's population will suffer, or have suffered, from some type of ringworm infection at some point in their life.

The five most common types of fungal tinea infections are athlete's foot, jock itch, scalp ringworm, nail ringworm, and body ringworm. Each is caused by a different species of fungus. Scalp ringworm and body ringworm are the most common types of tinea infections in children, and are most common between the ages of 2 and 14. Symptoms of scalp ringworm include hair loss, itching, dandruff-like flakes, scaly patches on the scalp, a rash on the scalp and sometimes also a rash on the body. The most common symptom of body ringworm is the itchy, red, ring-like skin rash typical of ringworm.

Body and scalp ringworm in children is usually caused by fungus that can be easily transmitted from person to person, either by direct contact or by contact with items like towels, sheets, pillows, combs, hats and hairbrushes. This means ringworm in children can spread easily in a school or home setting. Some types of ringworm can also be transmitted by pets. Risk factors for tinea in children include living in a warm climate, poor hygiene and diabetes. Ringworm in children is also more common in urban areas.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Jul 13, 2014

@bythewell - You will develop immunity, but only to the strain of ringworm that you were exposed to, so you can still get other types.

It's extremely common though, so there shouldn't be a stigma against it. Basically if your animals get it, it's likely you will as well.

By bythewell — On Jul 13, 2014

@Fa5t3r - The sad thing is, the last time I volunteered at an animal shelter I found out that they will usually destroy kittens with ringworm, even though it's not usually a fatal illness for them. It's just too contagious and it could spread to the whole shelter, including all the people who work there and take animals home, so they often have a strict policy against it.

I've had it a couple of times and it didn't really bother me much. I found the fact that there was a bit of a stigma about it more stressful than actually having it. One of the people at school recognized it and made fun of me and I was terrified that it was going to make my hair fall out (even though it wasn't in my scalp, that's what the kids said would happen).

I was told that once you've had ringworm you don't usually get it again, because you build immunity, but I don't know if that's true either.

By Fa5t3r — On Jul 12, 2014

I didn't realize that ringworm and athlete's foot were related. I guess that makes sense, since they have similar symptoms. I had ringworm when I was a kid, mostly because I had a habit of bringing home stray kittens and they would inevitably have it. It drove my mother nuts.

But I've always been lucky enough to not get athlete's foot, even though my sister seems to get it on a regular basis and I don't think we have dissimilar habits. Maybe she goes to the wrong gym or something like that.

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