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Ask Dr. Sears: A Ringed Rash

Q  My daughter has contracted ringworm. What is this, and how is it transmitted?

A Contrary to what it sounds like, ringworm isn't caused by worms. It's a fungal infection of the scalp or the skin that leaves a round, pinkish rash resembling a worm that has burrowed under the skin and formed a circle. The typical ringworm rash has a dime- to quarter-size circular border that's raised, scaly, or bumpy and is relatively clear in the center of the ring. The rash can appear anywhere on the body; if it's on the scalp, it may result in temporary bald patches.

Once your doctor has diagnosed ringworm, the standard treatment is an over-the-counter antifungal cream that is applied to the affected areas two to three times a day for two to four weeks. Scalp ringworm is usually treated with oral medication. Instruct your child not to scratch the spots, and be patient: It may take up to eight weeks for the rash to disappear.

Kids are more likely to get ringworm than adults, who have built up an immunity to these fungi. However, except for being an itchy nuisance, ringworm is neither painful nor highly contagious. Children usually catch it by coming into direct contact with the rash or the hands of an infected friend who's been scratching it, and they can also contract the germ from infected pets, especially dogs and cats. But because casual contact at school is rarely enough to transmit the infection, a child can usually attend school or daycare while the rash is being treated. At home, don't let siblings share combs, brushes, or hats with your infected child if the rash is on her scalp, and don't let anyone share towels with her until the infection clears up.