First case of ‘highly contagious’ ringworm transmitted through sex recorded in US

The condition can be treated with typical antifungal medication, but it can take weeks for rashes to disappear

Graig Graziosi
Wednesday 05 June 2024 23:07 BST
Related video: Scientists discover plastic-eating fungus in ocean environments

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Louise Thomas

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A New York man became the first to contract a new form of ringworm transmitted through sex and considered highly contagious.

The fungus — ringworm, despite its name, is not actually a worm — was spread through sexual contact, according to a new study.

“Healthcare providers should be aware that Trichophyton mentagrophytes type VII [TMVII] is the latest in a group of severe skin infections to have now reached the United States,” Dr Avrom Caplan, an assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine's dermatology department said in the study.

Caplan was co-author on a case study published on Wednesday that documented the New Yorker who became infected with the fungal strain. He reportedly developed a rash on his penis, buttocks and his limbs as a result of the infection.

The strain, called Trichophyton mentagrophytes type VII, has been on the rise in Europe, in particular among men who have sex with men. Doctors in France reported 13 cases of the fungus last year, according to NBC News.

A man in New York City became the first person in the US to have contracted a type of ringworm through sexual contact, researchers said. (stock image)
A man in New York City became the first person in the US to have contracted a type of ringworm through sexual contact, researchers said. (stock image) (PA Archive)

The man who contracted the disease had previously traveled to England, Greece and California, and said he had sexual encounters during his trips. But, he said, he did not notice similar skin conditions in any of his partners.

“Since patients are often reluctant to discuss genital problems, physicians need to directly ask about rashes around the groin and buttocks, especially for those who are sexually active, have recently traveled abroad, and report itchy areas elsewhere on the body,” Dr John Zampella said in the study.

He said the infections could be treated with typical antifungal medicines, but noted the rashes could last for months before they're fully cleared.

The man featured in the recent study had to take medicine for four months before his infection ended. He was prescribed fluconazole for four weeks, then another six weeks of terbinafine and another eight weeks of itraconazole, all of which are oral anti-fungals.

Zampella also warned health experts the rashes could be mistaken for the lesions caused by eczema.

Caplan said that cases of the fungus are rare in the US.

“There’s no evidence that this is widespread, or that this is something that people really need to be worried about,” he told NBC News. “But if people are having itchy eruptions in areas like the groin, and it’s not getting better, see a doctor.”

He said he and his team plan to expand their research into the fungus over the next several months.

“These [initial] findings offer new insight into how some of the fungal skin infections spreading from South Asia can evade our go-to therapies,” he said. “Beyond learning to recognize their misleading signs, physicians will need to ensure their treatment addresses each patient’s quality of life needs.”

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