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Can you get athlete's foot anywhere besides your feet?

Where It Starts, Where It Leads

Just as ringworm has nothing to do with worms, you don't have to be a jock or an athlete to get it. In fact, some of Trichophyton's favorite hosts have just learned to play catch. They're children.

Why? Trichophyton spreads easily through both direct and indirect contact. Kids in school jostle each other in the lunch line. Friends share pencils and baseball caps. Siblings share living space. One family can infect an entire neighborhood. The fungus lives in animal skin, as well. The family dog or cat and the classroom rabbit can be carriers. Not surprisingly, children are more likely than adults to contract ringworm of the body and scalp.

Fungi crave humid conditions, and dermatophytes love bare skin. You'll find plenty of both in the gyms, swimming pools and locker rooms where athletes congregate. Then again, feet that never set foot in a gym but spend time in dirty, sweaty socks are targets. Men and teen boys are most prone to contracting jock itch and athlete's foot.

Some people are especially susceptible to infection. People with compromised immune systems, such as those who have AIDS or cancer, are at higher risk. If you're prone to other fungal infections, you're a better-than-average candidate for ringworm.

Trichophyton is pernicious. Even after you wipe out the main colony with sprays and powders, small growths can linger out of reach in folds and layers of skin.

If ringworm isn't treated, things can go from bad to worse. With keratin degraded, the skin weakens and cracks. Bacteria invade, along with the associated ills of infection: fever, pus, and added heat, pain and swelling. People with poor circulation in the limbs are more apt to suffer these secondary infections. Those with diabetes are especially at risk of complications related to athlete's foot. Some people develop fluid-filled, weeping blisters, an allergic reaction to the fungus and the protein by-products of keratin breakdown.

You most likely will be driven to seek relief before it reaches that stage -- first to the drugstore, and possibly to the doctor's office.