Ringworm: what you need to know

Posted on 20 March 2017

We look at this common fungal skin infection and how to treat it.

The first thing to know about ringworm (tinea) is that it’s not a parasitic infection at all, but rather a skin fungi. Also known as tinea corporis (on the body), it’s distinctive ring-like rash earned its name, and the ring either has a normal skin tone in the centre or it displays a red centre.

Can ringworm be misdiagnosed?

Yes. Other rashes that can resemble ringworm include:

  • Spider bites – click here to learn more about spider bites
  • Nummular eczema – nummular, from Latin, means coin-shaped
  • Lyme disease – a bacterial infection from a tick bite.

How do I know it’s ringworm?

Ringworm is highly contagious and shared from person to person – especially in moist areas where fungus thrives, such as the gym, day-care bathrooms, or the locker room at school – so chances are it will infect more than one child at school. Ringworm is itchy and quite uncomfortable.


A GP will usually be able to spot ringworm at a glance, or gently scrape off a skin sample for testing, and prescribe an antifungal medication. Topical medication is sufficient to treat skin infections, but an infection on the scalp or nails may require oral anti-fungal treatment.

Preventing ringworm

To prevent recurrent infections, children and teenagers should wash straight after doing sports, and take care to wear flip-flops in communal changing areas. Ringworm is also passed from contact with pets, so regular handwashing is required if you have pets. Ringworm spores are known to be hardy and can survive for longer than a year, so infection isn’t caused by bad hygiene in itself but rather by shared living spaces and communal areas. These should be regularly and thoroughly cleaned with anti-fungal or ammonia-based cleaning products.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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