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What are Dermatophytes?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Dermatophytes are a variety of fungi that can cause infections. These fungi-related infections are technically known as tinea. Tinea infections can develop on any area of the body, but tend to be most frequent in the nails, skin, or hair. The type of tinea infection that occurs depends on the exact dermatophyte species a person comes into contact with.

Tinea capitis is an infection that occurs in the scalp and is often caused by the fungus Trichophyton tonsurans. It causes the skin on the scalp to become extremely dry and rough. In more severe cases of tinea capitis, the hair may become fragile and fall out. The condition is most likely to occur in children who are in school or other public programs where they are constantly exposed to other children.

Dermatophytes are also responsible for tinea pedis infections, more often referred to as athlete’s foot because it is worsened by sweat and tight footwear. This infection is typically caused by contact with the fungus Trichophyton rubrum. The main symptoms of athlete’s foot are itchy patches of skin on the feet and between the toes.

Another common dermatophyte infection is tinea cruris, also known as jock itch. It usually develops in the groin area and upper thighs after contact with the fungus Trichophyton rubrum or even as a complication of athlete’s foot. Although it can occur in women, jock itch tends to be much more likely in men.

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Dermatophytes do not just occur in people; they can also develop in housepets as well. The most common fungus in house pets is Microsporum canis. If a person is in contact with an infected pet, he or she may develop tinea corporis, or undifferentiated infections that can occur on skin all over the body.

Infections caused by dermatophytes are typically treated with either oral or topical antifungal medications. Oral antifungal medications are often recommended for children with tinea capitis because it can be difficult for topical versions to effectively reach the infected areas of the scalp without the hair getting in the way. Topical medications are usually prescribed for skin-based dermatophyte infections.

The spread of dermatophytes can generally be prevented. The fungi can be transmitted through contact with another person’s infected skin, hair, or nails. People in regular close contact with others can reduce their risks of contracting infections by washing their hands often and not sharing items with other people that frequently touch their body tissues, such as combs, hairbrushes, or hats.

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