Fungal (tinea) infections commonly affect skin, hair and nails. These infections can show up anywhere on the skin. They thrive in warm, moist areas, often developing between the toes (as ‘athlete’s foot’ or tinea pedis), the armpits or the groin (as ‘jock itch’ or tinea cruris).
Direct skin contact, as in wrestling, can spread tinea infections from person to person. Dogs, cats and farm animals also carry tinea. As well, fungi grow on damp surfaces like shower floors and locker rooms. Those with chronic diseases affecting the immune system, such as diabetes and HIV, are at greater risk of infection.
Tinea infections of the body and toes usually spread out in an irregular circle-like pattern with a well-defined red, scaly border. The central area is clear and looks normal. As the infection has a worm-like appearance, it is often called ‘ring worm.’ However, it is not actually caused by a worm. The area is usually itchy. Tinea infections of the scalp (tinea capitis) cause red itchy patches and often leave bald spots.
Fungal infections of the nails (onychomycosis) can make finger or toenails thick, discoloured, and misshapen. The nail may be brittle, and many toes can be affected.
Since other skin infections can look like a fungal infection, your doctor should confirm diagnosis and start appropriate treatment. Sometimes, a scraping of the skin or nail may be needed to decide whether a fungus is causing the problem.
Most skin and scalp tinea infections are easily treated with anti-fungal creams that can be put on the skin. Nail infections usually require two to three month courses of oral medication. Recently, a medication that can be brushed onto the nail was developed.
It is rare to become seriously ill, since the body can usually control a fungal infection. In fact, people often don’t even realize they have had one because the body heals itself. Tinea infections do not usually leave scars after the fungus is gone.
You can reduce your risk of getting a fungal infection by using the following strategies.
Recently, outbreaks of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections have affected athletes. It is important to understand why these infections happen and how to prevent them.
Many healthy people carry the common bacteria staphylococcus aureus, or ‘staph,’ on their skin or in the nose. Staph can cause minor skin infections that heal without antibiotic treatment. More serious staph infections of the skin, lung or blood usually clear up with standard antibiotic treatment. However, some staph infections, such as MRSA, do not respond to routine penicillin-like antibiotics.
MRSA infections usually affect people in hospital or who have poor immune system function. However, a number of recent MRSA outbreaks affected young, healthy individuals outside of health care facilities. These cases are called Community-Acquired MRSA, or CA-MRSA.
Such infections in athletes including football and rugby players, wrestlers and fencers are of particular concern. Athletes may be at higher risk of CA-MRSA infections because of small cuts or sores, frequent skin-to-skin contact, and contact with infected sports equipment and towels.
Staph skin infections, including CA-MRSA, typically start with the usual signs of infection. The area is painful, swollen, red and warm to the touch. As the infection progresses, it can turn into a deep and painful abscess, which may need draining. There may be fever, chills, and a general unwell feeling.
If left untreated, the infection can penetrate deeper into the body, causing infections in bones, joints, bloodstream, heart and lungs. These can be life threatening.
CA-MRSA infections are resistant to antibiotics such as penicillin, cloxacillin and methicillin. They are treated with antibiotics like clindamycin or vancomycin. If infection is very serious, antibiotics may be given intravenously, in a solution injected directly into a vein.
Prevent the spread of MRSA infection by using the following guidelines:
Good personal hygiene
By taking care to avoid skin infection and getting medical attention if you need it, you can stay in top form.