Think you've been exposed to ringworm but haven't yet acquired scalp fungus? Start scrubbing.

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If you think the term "scalp fungus" sounds unpleasant, consider the other word for the condition: "ringworm." Yuck! Thankfully, ringworm isn't an actual case of worms. Rather, it describes round rings that can appear on the skin due to a fungal infection. Ringworm infections, which tend to create irritated patches and blisters, can occur in numerous locations on the body. For instance, jock itch and athlete's foot are types of ringworm. It's when the phenomenon appears on the head that it's known as scalp fungus.

What causes scalp fungus? This contagious fungal infection is more common in children than adults. Not only can it be picked up from other people, it can be transferred from animals. Many dogs and cats carry ringworm, so if your pet has bald spots in its fur, it's possible that it has the infection and can pass it along to you and your family. This, however, is not the most common way of contracting scalp fungus. It's much more likely to get it from another person. This can happen when you use someone else's hat, scarf, brush, comb or hair accessory, where the fungus can survive for months.

There are ways to prevent scalp fungus -- or, at least, reduce your chances of getting it:

  • Monitor your pet's coat. Seek veterinary evaluation and treatment for it if you notice bald spots.
  • Avoid using another person's hats, scarves, brushes, combs and hair accessories -- even if that person's scalp looks normal.
  • Wash sweat out of your hair after a workout. Fungus thrives in damp, moist areas.
  • Make sure you immediately treat any scrapes or cuts on your scalp.

Scalp fungus can be difficult to treat -- even more so than other ringworm-related conditions. However, if you find yourself with the infection, see a doctor right away. To completely eliminate the fungus, you'll need to take a prescribed antifungal medication. Antifungal shampoos are another recommended treatment for scalp fungus, but alone, they're not strong enough to conquer the infection. However, the shampoo may be a good preventive treatment if you think you've been exposed to ringworm but haven't yet acquired scalp fungus.

While it takes antifungal medication to completely clear scalp fungus, there are things you can do at home to speed up the recovery process. To start with, get rid of anything you can that has touched your scalp. Of course, there will be some things -- like hats, scarves and pillowcases -- that you need to keep. These items will need to be washed every day until your antifungal treatment is complete. Keep in mind that you can get re-infected, so don't let up on your laundry routine until your doctor gives you a clean bill of health.

We have lots more information about scalp conditions on the next page.