Ringworm in children and adults

Ringworm in children and adults

Ringworm (erythema infectiosum) is a viral disease primarily occurring in children. It is highly contagious and is transmitted by droplet infection. A typical symptom is a red rash that primarily appears on the face but can also appear on the arms, legs and trunk. Ringworm disease usually takes a harmless course and heals independently after a few weeks. However, complications are also possible in adults, especially in pregnant women.

Ringworm: What is it?

Ringworm disease is caused by the parvovirus B19 and is found worldwide. Like measlesmumpschickenpox and rubella, they are among the typical childhood diseases. Ringworm is often confused with regular rubella, but it is an infectious disease in its own right.

Ringworm is contagious. The virus is transmitted by droplet infection – for example, when coughing or sneezing. How long it takes after infection until the first symptoms appear (incubation period) varies: usually between four days and two weeks. The infected person is already contagious during the incubation period; as soon as the first symptoms appear, the risk of infection is low.

Once you have contracted ringworm, you are immune to the disease for the rest of your life. Since the symptoms caused are usually fragile, many affected people do not even know they are ill. It is estimated that about half of the population in Germany is immune to ringworm. 


Red skin rash is a typical symptom

In the case of ringworm, symptoms are often noticeable and similar to cold ones. This can lead to exhaustion, fever and body aches. The most characteristic symptom, a red rash, occurs in only about one in five sufferers.

Typically, the rash develops mainly on the face: large red spots appear on the right and left cheek. The chin, lips and nose, on the other hand, are usually spared from the rash. In addition to the face, the rash can appear on the arms, legs and trunk. The spots here often have a typical ring-shaped pattern: a red edge and a lighter inner surface.

How severe the rash is and whether or not it is accompanied by itching varies. The same applies to the duration of the reddening of the skin: the symptoms usually subside after a few days, but they can sometimes last for several weeks. The skin is often scaly due to the rash and requires intensive care.

ringworm in adults

Ringlet disease is considered a harmless childhood disease that usually subsides without consequences. Ringel measles is usually not dangerous for adults either. However, symptoms can become more severe with age. In adults, this can lead to swelling and inflammation of the hand and finger joints and the knees and ankles.

Complications can occur in people who suffer from anaemia or an immune deficiency – such as people with leukaemia and people with transplanted organs. Because the lack of red blood cells, which the ringworm virus can trigger, causes them more problems than healthy people.

Ringlet rubella can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy: in about 20 per cent of cases, the virus is passed on to the unborn child, which can then develop anaemia. In the worst case, the virus can cause a miscarriage.


Diagnosing ringworm

Ringworm is usually only noticed in children and adults when the typical red skin rash appears. If this is missing, the disease usually remains undetected. If you discover an unusual skin rash on yourself or your child, a doctor can usually do a quick examination to determine whether it is ringworm.

A blood test can be used to diagnose ringworm with certainty. In the event of an infection, particular antibodies form in the blood, which can be detected in the blood about ten days after the onset of the disease. Such a blood test is usually unnecessary for children – it is usually only carried out on pregnant women since the viruses pose a particular risk to them.

treat ringworm

As with most viral diseases, there is no therapy against the pathogen itself for ringworm. Symptomatic treatment is possible but not necessary in many cases due to the mild course of the disease.

If you have a high fever, antipyretic painkillers can help. However, children should not be given any medication containing acetylsalicylic acid, as otherwise, the life-threatening Reye’s syndrome can occur. If the rash causes severe itching, you can relieve the symptoms with an appropriate ointment from the pharmacy, such as a zinc lotion.

In contrast to many other typical childhood diseases, there is still no vaccine against ringworm. You can only prevent the disease by avoiding contact with infected people. Pregnant women who do not have antibodies against the ringworm virus in their blood should generally avoid contact with children as a precautionary measure.

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