Athlete's foot (medical name: tinea pedis) is a common fungal infection caused by the ringworm fungus known as Trichophyton. The fungi thrive in the warm, moist areas of your feet and they can be contagious. Athlete's foot can also spread to other parts o the body.
Trichophyton, the athlete's foot fungus is known as a dermatophyte. And dermatophytes are subdivided into three groups; -
Geophile - fungus that prefers soil
Zoophile - fungus that prefers animals
Anthropophile - fungus that prefers humans
The main anthropophile species are Microsporum, Epidermophyton and Trichphyton, and they are commonly referred to as ringworm.
These fungi can be found on many surfaces where people walk barefoot such as gyms, swimming pools and locker rooms. They spread via person to person contact.
Everybody has at least one type of athlete's foot fungus on their body, though it doesn't necessarily mean than an infection will follow. The ringworm will only thrive on you if your skin offers a nice warm and moist environment. Between sweaty toes is an ideal home for them. Drying between toes after bathing or swimming is an effective way of keeping the fungus at bay.
Symptoms of Athlete's Foot
A person with athlete's foot will notice that their feet can become itchy, saw and red. The skin may peel and cracks appear between toes which can be sore. The skin will also stay moist. Blisters, flaking and inflammation are also present. The fungus lives off dead skin cells and most of the symptoms are caused by the body's immune system as it tries to fight the infection.
The fungus can also spread to other parts of the body such as the toenails. Athlete's foot on the hand is not has common as the foot infection, but it does occur because they are the parts of the body that come into contact with infected feet more often. The infection is then known as tinea manuum and the symptoms are very similar to athlete's foot with red and itchy skin. The sides of fingers and creases in the palm are the most commonly affected areas.
The infection usually spreads to the hands when a person touches their infected feet and fails to wash their hands afterwards.
Is Athlete's Foot Contagious?
Athlete's foot is contagious and can be spread from one person to another, and by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces such as towels and changing room floors. However, not everyone is infected. There have been studies that have shown that some people who have shared the same bathroom facilities with an infected person (i.e. spouse or sibling) for years, do not themselves become infected. The cause of this protection is unknown, but studies are starting to reveal what makes some people get fungal infections as opposed to others who don't.