You've probably heard stories of cats and dogs... and even bunnies and guinea pigs... being infected with "ringworm", so you've probably also heard that this infection can be passed on to human beings and vice versa. Well, before you panic (and become nauseous by the thought), here's a bit about this annoying but quite benign skin problem.
"Ringworm" is the common term used to describe skin infections caused by fungi, and these fungi are called dermatophytes (now there's a mouthful!). This literally means "plants that live on the skin", so the first thing to understand is that in fact there are no wriggly, disgusting worms involved at all, microscopic or otherwise. OK? Feel better? The name came about because the marks caused on human skin are red and circular, appearing a little like a ring formed by a worm. (There's a nice bit of useless information you can impress your friends with at the next quiz night!)
Pets pick up this infection from the environment, as the spores of these fungi are extremely hardy and can survive for years. However, they cannot infect normal, healthy skin and so animals with scratches or irritations or those which have recently been shaved are more susceptible. Infected or carrier animals are constantly dropping off hairs that are covered with spores into the surrounding environment, and this is how the condition can spread among pets in the same household.
Humans certainly can contract ringworm from their pets but people with sturdy immune systems usually are not affected. Therefore, young and old people, and those with chronic illness or stress, are groups that are more likely to become infected if they are exposed to a pet with this condition. Your vet may be suspicious of a fungal infection in your pet's skin by looking at it under a "Wood's Lamp" (a special UV light), but a culture of the fungus is usually required to absolutely confirm the diagnosis.
So, your pet has ringworm? What now?
Ringworm is certainly annoying and tedious to treat, but is not at all life threatening and can be very safely cured... with commitment!
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