Fungus among us

Sep 19, 2008 at 8:17 p.m. ET

Just before going on vacation, the boys each had some patches of poison ivy, Alfs more so than Woody. There was even an itchy red patch on Woody's cheek. Poor guy, we kept thinking, and treating it appropriately -- or so we thought. At some point we decided since it wasn't oozing, we'd leave it, but keep an eye on it.

Boy with Ringworm
Visiting with friends on vacation, my friend's father (a retired physician) dropped by. He took one look at Woody, scowled a little, and said, "Ringworm, right?" Taken aback, I shook my head no. I hadn't considered it could be anything but poison ivy, even if it wasn't a typical poison ivy presentation. Denial is strong, my friends.

But the idea was - finally - in my head. Later that evening, I did a search on the Internet, and it really was likely that the itchy patch on Woody's face was ringworm. Then I started to read up on ringworm. And then I felt mildly squirmy, not to mention slightly embarrassed..

What is ringworm, anyway?

Ringworm is not a worm at all. It's a fungus. Yes, a fungus, and a parasitic one at that. It's actually the same fungus that causes athletes foot and, ahem, jock itch. I think it sounds worse than it is.

Woody had a somewhat oval raised red patch on his cheek that was quite itchy. I know, nothing like poison ivy like we thought (but isn't it interesting how we try to deny what we don't know). Ringworm is contagious, and it's common in children who have a lot of skin to skin contact.

I have no idea how or where Woody picked it up. It could have been in any number of groups of kids he was hanging around with prior to vacation. Although it's spread fairly easily, I wouldn't say it's the sort of thing to start a panic.

How do you treat it?

Luckily, ringworm is fairly easily treated, though it does take sometime for the patch to heal and clear completely. We used an over-the-counter anti-fungal lotion twice a day for several weeks to get it cleared up. Yes, it takes time, even though it seemed to pop up on Woody's face overnight. It took some patience, but Woody's patch of ringworm is almost resolved (not in time for school pictures, however, so this brief skin condition will live on in photos).

Ringworm is usually just an issue of annoyance, but if you have any concerns, definitely call your physician for advice. If the patch on Woody's face hadn't started to respond fairly quickly, we would have taken him to the pediatrician promptly.

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