Tinea Corporis (Ringworm) Background

Ringworm On the Arm (Trichophyton mentagrophytes)


Tinea corporis, or “ringworm,” is an infection of the skin resulting from a fungus, not a worm as the name suggests. The term originally came from the belief that the infection was caused by a worm – hence the Latin term and naming for worm or “tinea.” By convention, the second term used to describe tinea infections dictates the location affected: Tinea corporis for ringworm of the body, tinea capitis for ringworm of the scalp, tinea peditis for ringworm of the feet, etc.

A variety of small “dermatophyte” organisms cause ringworms including Trichophyton rubrum, Microsporum canis, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, and Trichophyton tonsurans species [1]. It is one of the most common infections in the world and constitute roughly 20% of all dermatophytoses [1]. It can affect all persons of any age, yet it is more prevalent among children most likely as a result of common shared spaces, play items, and overall contact.


The most common form of ringworm infections is characterized by a red ring on the skin with a clearing in the middle. The rings can be itchy, scaly, and may blister or ooze in severe cases. Ringworm on the scalp (tinea capitis) can cause these same symptoms with the addition of balding on or around the site of infection. It is typical to have ringworm infections at several different sites on the body at the same time.

Is Ringworm Contagious?

Ringworm is highly contagious. It is commonly transmitted by an infected individual through direct skin contact or through contact with an infected item or surface (e.g. lip balm, combs, and other cosmetic items). It may also be transmitted through pets as well as bodily fluids. Avoid contact and sharing items with anyone known to be infected with ringworm. Since ringworm typically thrives in warm and moist climates, it is generally recommended to avoid using shared facilities with a similar environment (e.g. locker room showers and communal pools) when infected to prevent spreading the fungus further.


A major cause of ringworm infection is through direct contact with an infected individual, pet, or personal item. The fungi that cause the infection, however, normally reside on the skin’s surface, and some individuals may be more or less susceptible to outbreaks.

Occupations where disease is prevalent include athletes, outdoor labor workers, and veterinarians. Similar to other tinea infections, the dermatophytes prefer an environment rich in moisture, therefore, excessive sweating can contribute to the spread of ringworm infection. Individuals with a weakened immune system are also at risk for contracting the disease.


Microsporum Canis Close Up

Close up image and staining of Microsporum canis – one of the possible dermatophytes causing tinea corporis (“ringworm”). 


Among the variety of ringworm treatment options available for infections, sertaconazole and terbinafine have been cited as some of the most effective therapies [2, 3]. Typical treatment options to start include topical creams or lotions available over the counter. A doctor may prescribe oral antifungal therapies if the ringworm infection is more severe or if there are multiple sites of infection on the body.

For more targeted treatment, a physician may prescribe antifungal therapies based on the particular species causing infection. Although ringworm can be caused by a number of dermatophyte species, fungal cells can be isolated and identified by taking samples directly from the skin via gentle scraping with a scalp or swab. Knowing the exact species causing infection will help to narrow down the treatment options available to identify the most effective therapy [3].

A list of commonly available over the counter ringworm treatments can be found in Tinea (Ringworm) Treatment as well as recommended applications on how to get rid of ringworm. Additional information on ringworm treatment options in general can be found in Antifungal Creams and Active Ingredients.


Practicing good hygiene and keeping the skin dry helps to prevent any outbreaks since the dermatophytes thrive on moist skin. Regular washing of worn clothes also helps prevent the spread of ringworm infection. If infected, avoid excessive itching of the area to further prevent the ringworm from spreading.


Additional Resources

National Institute of Health MedlinePlus: Ringworm

WebMD: Myths and Facts About Ringworm

Wiki: Dermatophytosis



[1] Qadim HH, Golforoushan F, Azimi H, Goldust M. Factors leading to dermatophytosis. Ann Parasitol. 2013;59(2):99-102. Link.

[2] Jerajani H, Janaki C, Kumar S, Phiske M. Comparative assessment of the efficacy and safety of sertaconazole (2%) cream versus terbinafine cream (1%) versus luliconazole (1%) cream in patients with dermatophytoses: a pilot study. Indian J Dermatol. 2013 Jan;58(1):34-8. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.105284. Full Text.

[3] Moriarty B, Hay R, Morris-Jones R. The diagnosis and management of tinea. BMJ 2012;345. Link.