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Health Answers

What causes ringworm in kids and how is it treated?

Q. What causes ringworm in kids and how is it treated?

A. Ringworm is not a worm at all but a rash caused by a skin infection with a fungus called tinea. Tinea can infect the feet (athlete’s foot), the groin (jock itch), the scalp, or other parts of the body. The infection is often spread through skin-to-skin contact, but it can also be spread through clothing, hair combs, sports equipment, towels, or a locker room floor. You can also be infected from touching infected cats, dogs, or pet birds.

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Dr. Bianca Shagrin, a pediatrician at Cambridge Health Alliance, says that while ringworm can occur in people of all ages, children are more susceptible to certain kinds “because their immune systems are less developed, and also because they often have close contact with their peers.” She says that on the body it usually looks like a red, raised, scaly circle, and the middle gradually lightens to form a ring. A circular rash at the infected site may spread or multiply.

“Usually it responds well to the daily application of an antifungal cream,” she says. An over-the-counter cream or ointment with clotrimazole is usually enough, but a doctor can prescribe other topical or oral antifungal medications for extensive or severe rashes. It’s also worth seeing a doctor if symptoms are not obvious. “Sometimes ringworm can be confused with other common rashes like eczema or psoriasis,” Shagrin says. Avoid direct contact with the rash when it’s active, and wash clothes, sheets, and towels that might carry the fungus.

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