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Ringworm is a fungal infection and not a worm. The disease is highly contagious and is seen most commonly in cats and dogs, particularly when young. It is a zoonoses, that means it can be transmitted as a disease to humans. If an owner has lesions these will usually appear as circular red skin marks on areas where they commonly come into contact with their animals – hands, arms and face, but can be seen anywhere on the body. If an owner becomes infected they should consult a doctor or pharmacist.
Animals need to be seen by a vet if the disease is suspected, as the most effective treatment (Griseofulvin tablets) is a restricted drug and has potential hazards.
It is not easy to contain once established in a cattery or pet shop as the spores can remain dormant for long periods. Transmission is often through contamination of clothes, bedding etc and even by passage through air conditioning systems, wind etc. Some animals will be carriers of the disease without showing any signs. Incubation of the disease is usually a maximum of 14 days from time of infection to clinical symptoms. This means that following exposure to the fungus it takes up to this time before lesions occur.
In a lot of cases diagnosis can be made using a Woods lamp, especially in cats. Identification of typical ringworm lesions also helps. In some cases the fungus has to be grown from hair in a laboratory, but this can take 2-3 weeks to obtain a result. Treatment is usually straightforward and takes 4 weeks of medication to complete. The disease is often limited or halted once treatment is started.
Control measures should be undertaken in the home/cattery/retail outlet to minimise spread. For the average pet owner this will involve isolation of the animal in question if possible, washing of all bedding the animal comes in contact with and washing of hands and face after handling the animal or wearing gloves. Vacuuming carpets will help remove any fungus that has fallen into the carpet.