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Ringworm: Who gets and causes

Who gets ringworm?

People around the world develop ringworm, and anyone can get it.

Your risk of getting ringworm increases if you:

  • Live in a tropical area

  • Spend time in hot, humid weather

  • Sweat heavily

  • Wrestle, play football, or participate in another contact sport

  • Live in close contact with others, such as in military housing

  • Share towels, clothes, razors, and other things without disinfecting (razors) or washing (clothes and towels) them

  • Are obese

  • Have diabetes

  • Wear clothing that chafes your skin

  • Use a locker room or pool and don’t wash and dry your feet well before putting on shoes and socks

Having HIV does not increase your risk of getting ringworm

If you are HIV-positive and get ringworm, however, the ringworm can be more severe and difficult to get rid of.

Athletes tend to get ringworm because they often have sweaty bodies and may have close physical contact with other athletes. Two types of ringworm, athlete’s foot and jock itch, are especially common in athletes.

You don’t have to be an athlete, however, to get ringworm. Anyone who has damp or sweaty feet can get athlete’s foot. Sweating a lot in the groin area can lead to jock itch.

Head-to-head contact can spread scalp ringworm

Children get scalp ringworm, which is rare in adults. The other types of ringworm are more common in adults.

Two young girls leaning together touching heads

What causes ringworm?

Certain types of fungi (plural of fungus) cause ringworm. These fungi thrive where it’s warm and humid. Ringworm is common in tropical areas and during hot, humid summers. It flourishes in warm, moist locker rooms and indoor pools.

You can also get ringworm when the weather is cool because ringworm is extremely contagious.

It's possible to get ringworm from:

  • Having skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it

  • Petting an animal like a dog, cat, or farm animal infected with ringworm

  • Touching soil infected with ringworm

  • Using an infected object like a phone, comb, or towel

The fungi that cause ringworm can live on any infected object, including clothing, brushes, and sports equipment for a long time.

Getty Images

Gupta AK and Lynch LE. “Fungal and yeast infections.” In: Kelly AP and Taylor S. Dermatology for Skin of Color. (first edition). The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. China, 2009:427-8.

Martin ES and Elewski BE. “Tinea capitis in adult women masquerading as bacterial pyoderma.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2003; 49:S177-9.

Sobera JO and Elewski BE. “Fungal diseases.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008:1138-46.

Verma S and Heffernan MP. “Superficial fungal infections.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008: 1807-16.