Is Athlete’s Foot Contagious?

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that causes an itchy and scaly rash between the toes. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the foot, such as the heels, soles, and sides of the feet. The fungi that cause athlete’s foot, known as dermophytes, tend to grow on feet that are damp for extended periods.

Athlete’s foot is incredibly contagious and can spread in various situations and conditions.

This article discusses how the fungus that causes athlete’s foot is transmitted and how long the infection is contagious.

Woman with athlete's foot
bymuratdeniz / Getty Images.

How Does Athlete’s Foot Spread?

Athlete’s foot is so contagious that roughly 20% to 25% of the world’s population has had it at some point in their lives. There are three main methods by which the infection spreads:

  • When the scales from the rash that develops shed and someone comes into contact with them
  • When someone comes into contact with the fungus that causes the infection in damp settings such as swimming pools or communal showers
  • Sharing sheets, towels, shoes, or clothing with someone who has an active athlete’s foot infection

Can Athlete’s Foot Spread to Other Parts of the Body?

If a person with athlete's foot scratches their rash and then touches other parts of the body without washing their hands, the fungi can be transferred and grow in a new area.

How Long Is Athlete’s Foot Contagious?

Once athlete’s foot is treated, the infection should clear up within two to four weeks. However, athlete's foot can be challenging to get rid of because the fungi tend to live for a long time on the skin.

As long as the fungus is still on the skin of the feet, even during treatment, you can still pass it on to others.

Prevent Athlete’s Foot From Spreading

When you have athlete’s foot or are in the process of treating it, you should avoid spreading the fungus as best you can. Avoid sharing things like towels, shoes, socks, or clothing with other people.

Sleeping with socks on while in bed with your partner and wearing shoes whenever possible in public spaces can also reduce your chance of transmitting it when you’re contagious.

Avoid the use of public showers or pools until your infection has cleared. Wash your hands immediately after touching or scratching the affected area so you don’t spread the fungus elsewhere.

Risk Factors Associated with Athlete's Foot

There are several risk factors associated with athlete’s foot, such as:

  • Living in a warm and humid climate
  • Playing contact sports
  • Regularly using communal showers or lockers rooms
  • Sharing clothes, shoes, socks, or towels with others
  • Poor foot hygiene
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Poor nutrition
  • Working in specific professions, such as the military or mining industries
  • Living in long-term care facilities or other communal-type institutions

Treatment

The first-line treatment for athlete’s foot is an antifungal medication. The type and strength of the medication will vary depending on how severe the infection is.

For example, a mild infection typically responds to an over-the-counter topical antifungal. A more severe case may require a prescription or oral antifungal medication.

Oral antifungal medication is also used when topically applying medication doesn’t work or isn’t appropriate for the individual.

Recurring Athlete’s Foot

In some cases, athlete’s foot can return if you don’t finish out your course of treatment or the fungus remains on your skin. It can also recur if you don’t practice good after-care techniques such as keeping your feet dry and cool. If it continues to recur, you can make an appointment with your healthcare provider to find a stronger treatment option.

Summary

Athlete’s foot is a highly contagious fungal infection that affects the feet. When a person gets athlete’s foot, It is typically caused by damp and humid conditions or contracting the fungus from someone else. The infection can spread easily from person to person.

If you have athlete’s foot, it is up to you to prevent the spread. To do so, you can wear socks to bed, avoid communal showers, and wash your hands after you touch the infection. Keeping your hands clean will also prevent spreading the infection to other parts of your body.

A Word From Verywell 

While athlete’s foot is incredibly common, it is still annoying to deal with. The rash and itching associated with the infection will continue to worsen if you don’t get prompt treatment. That’s why it’s important to always seek medical advice if you suspect you may have athlete’s foot.

Seeing your healthcare provider as soon as you notice symptoms will help you manage athlete's foot and reduce the risk of transmitting it to others.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I need to throw away my shoes if I have athlete's foot?

    While you don’t necessarily need to throw your shoes away if you have the infection, it is advised if you wore them without socks. Because the bacteria thrives in warm and damp environments, any shoes that you may have sweated in with bare feet could harbor the fungus that causes the infection.

  • What kills athlete's foot instantly?

    While nothing will cure you of the infection instantly, certain remedies can be used to speed up the healing process. Hydrogen peroxide, for example, is one of them. Studies have found that hydrogen peroxide can kill the fungus fairly quickly. 

  • Is athlete's foot contagious in bed?

    Athlete’s foot can be transmitted in bed. If the skin flakes off and gets on the sheets, it can be spread that way if you share a bed with someone else. That is why it’s important to wear socks while in bed to protect your partner if you have an athlete’s foot infection.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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