This year, approximately 1 million children will be infected with tinea capitis, a highly contagious disease better known as ringworm of the scalp, according to an Aug 16, 2001, news release. This disease is a fungal infection, and its incidence is increasing in the United States. Ringworm accounts for more than 90% of skin fungal infections in children less than 10 years of age in the United States.
Ringworm of the scalp, contrary to its name, is not a worm--it is a highly contagious fungal infection. Hair loss, itching, and dandruff are symptoms of this disease. It can be spread through direct contact and through indirect contact with combs, hats, and articles of clothing of infected individuals. Many people who become infected with the disease do not seek treatment or remain undiagnosed, which can lead to severe pain, permanent hair loss, scar formation on the scalp, missed days of school or work, and the potential of spreading the disease to others. According to the release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 700,000 physician visits per year are made for ringworm of the scalp.
Even though children less than 10 years of age are at the greatest risk, anyone can be infected with ringworm. Researchers analyzed 1996 data and found that children between the ages of five and 18 made more than 77% of physician visits for ringworm. Those younger than five years of age accounted for 19% of visits, and those older than 18 years of age accounted for 4% of visits. African-Americans are most at risk, as they accounted for 81% of 1996 visits.
Early recognition and treatment are the keys to slowing and preventing the spread of ringworm. Shampoos and other topical treatments alone are not an effective cure. According to the release, an oral antifungal is the only effective cure. To prevent the spread of the disease, children should be taught not to share communal items, such as combs, barrettes, and stuffed animals.
Ringworm of the Scalp: Major Public Health Problem, Say Healthcare Professionals (news release, Skillman, NJ: PR Newswire, Aug 16, 2001) http://www.newsdesk.com (accessed 21 Aug 2001).
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