Fungal infections, like athlete’s foot, are easily treated but other types of fungal infections can spread beneath the skin onto lymph nodes, bones, digestive tract and even the brain. Some researchers suggest that there is a genetic connection when it comes to infectious diseases that determine whether or not a person will have complications from a minor infection.
One study in particular looked at 17 genomes of people who had deep dermatophytosis even though they had healthy immune systems capable of fighting off infection. The researchers focused on a gene known as CARD9 because previous research found that a defect in this gene would cause for healthy individuals to experience complications related to fungal infections.
Senior scientist, Anne Puel, said, “Our research showed that CARD9 deficiency is the genetic cause of deep dermatophytosis. The primary infection was most often in childhood, when the patients showed recurrent skin or scalp ringworm, and nail infections. Due to their genetic defect and their resulting impaired immune response, the patients could not adequately fight the fungi. So instead of the germs being cleared from the body, they progressively spread until, in adulthood, the infection manifested in other body regions, which proved deadly in some cases.”
Whether it’s athlete’s foot, a vaginal yeast infection or that pesky white spot growing underneath your finger or toenail, fungal infections are prevalent. That’s because we’re so exposed to them. Are fungal infections contagious? Sorry, but yes, they are. Ever use the shower at the gym? Fungal infections of the feet are contagious, spread person to person or by walking on contaminated floors or objects.
Other fungal infections like ringworm and nail fungus can spread by direct contact with infected people, or even through clothing or furniture. Another common one for men, jock itch, appears as a red, itchy rash that often has a ring-shape. It thrives in moist, warm areas of the body and, as a result, the infection can affect the genitals, inner thighs, and buttocks. So limit your time in a public sauna, please!
In fact, with almost all of these fungal infections, heat, sweat and humidity may help to spread the infection. Back to the public shower reference…
But what are these infections, exactly? Fungi are microorganisms that have a certain substance in their cell wall called chitin. Fungal spores are often present in the air or in the soil, so that’s why infections usually start on the skin or in the lungs.
Some fungi are edible, like many types of mushrooms (which are great for your health, incidentally). But others, like aspergillus, can be dangerous when they get inside our bodies, attacking our cells and leading to life-threatening diseases. But in between the mushroom and the deadly type, there are numerous other types of fungi that cause infections in our skin, nails and lungs.
Almost every part of the body has non-disease causing bacteria that serve to protect you from fungal infections. And if fungi do manage to get inside, your immune system can fight them off. Another point, high acidity levels in the vagina provide extra protection.
So fungal infections are rarely serious unless your immune system is weakened, usually by drugs or disorders. Prolonged use of antibiotics, for example, can destroy protective bacteria, allowing fungi to colonize the skin and mucous.
Or if you have another condition that has hampered your immune system, like diabetes, you may be more vulnerable to fungi taking hold. Hormonal changes in postmenopausal women reduce the acidity level in their vagina, so they become more prone to vaginal yeast infections.
On the upside, fungal infections usually progress slowly, so you can stop them from getting worse by taking the right steps. It starts with good hygiene practices.
You want to keep the affected area clean and dry, as much as possible, and apply antifungal medications. There are a variety of over-the-counter antifungal creams and sprays, but prescription antifungal creams are sometimes necessary. Vaginal infections are usually treated with suppositories.
More serious infections, like nail fungus, may require oral tablets or injections. You do want to see your doctor, especially if the condition doesn’t respond to initial treatment.
Make sure you wash and dry the affected area with a clean towel every day, and apply the antifungal cream, powder, or spray as directed. Change your clothes, underwear and socks every day – especially your underwear if you’re experiencing jock itch or a vaginal yeast infection. Again, the emphasis on keeping the affected area clean and safe from further irritation.
There are alternative therapies you can try as well to stop your infection from getting worse – or to follow as preventative measures: Increasing your consumption of garlic, for one, is recommended. Garlic is a reputed natural anti-fungal food in traditional herbal medicine.
Immune-system boosters are also important, including vitamin C and essential fatty acids. Eat more fresh fruits, oily fish and olive oil. Clean, fresh eating can go a long way to prevent infection.
You want to limit your sugar intake because it can suppress your immunity (watch those added sugars and check food labels). Probiotics, too, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus in yogurt, are known to boost healthy bacteria in the gut, helping to restore the body’s balance and improve immunity.
No one wants ringworm and nail fungus, or other types of fungal infections, to take hold. But with the right care, and clean socks and underwear, you’ll be on track to keeping your health in good order.