Ringworm, a scalp fungus that was a childhood scourge in the 1940s and '50s, is staging a new outbreak, and this time it's more difficult to detect.
A half-century ago, a fungus called M. audouini caused thousands of ringworm cases, mostly in Caucasian children ages 3 to 9 who sometimes infected other members of their families.The current outbreak is being caused by a different fungus called T. tonsurans, and its targets this time are mostly black children, says Dr. Rebat Halder, head of dermatology at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
"We're unsure why the illness is targeting black children, but we do know all school-age children may be at risk," Halder said.
Unlike the mid-century fungus, which was relatively easy to detect with ultraviolet lamps, current infections must be diagnosed with scalp scrapings and laboratory tests, Halder said.
"The ringworm of the 1990s is more insidious than its predecessor, and only vigilance by parents, school nurses and doctors will make a difference," Halder said.
The illness causes red, circular scaly patches on the scalp and spreads when children share combs, brushes, ribbons and barrettes. It also can be picked up from telephones and furniture headrests.
The condition can be eradicated by anti-fungal medications prescribed by physicians.