Ringworm is caused by a fungus that grows on the skin, which can be acquired from contact with a variety of infected surfaces, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ringworm spreads through direct contact with infected individuals or objects they have recently touched.
Despite the name, ringworm is not caused by worms, states WebMD. The name is derived from the ring-shaped skin infection resulting from the spread of fungi called dermatophytes. Ringworm, also called tinea, is highly contagious and can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or pet, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. People can also acquire ringworm by touching objects or surfaces that have been in contact or shared with an infected person. Hats, combs, clothing, towels and linens are all common vehicles for spreading the fungus. Prolonged contact with infected soil can also spread ringworm, though this is an uncommon occurrence.
Ringworm favors moist areas and is therefore more likely to occur on parts of the body that are often wet from sweat, according to MedlinePlus. Depending on where the infection occurs, ringworm is called by various names. Tinea barbae is in the beard area; tinea capitis occurs on the scalp; tinea pedis, also known as athlete's foot, affects the feet; tinea cruris, also known as jock itch, is in the groin area; and tinea corporis affects the body. Children are particularly prone to acquiring ringworm, though it can affect adults as well. Keeping skin clean and dry while refraining from sharing personal care items can prevent the spread of ringworm.
Ringworm is treated by applying an anti-fungal cream to the affected areas. Oral anti-fungal pills can be used in more-severe cases.