Is Ringworm Contagious?

Ringworm is a highly contagious but easy-to-treat fungal infection spread between animals and humans. It typically appears on the skin, hair, and nails in humans and on the skin, claws, or hooves in animals.

Ringworm is not caused by worms. Rather, its name comes from its distinct circular rash that usually makes it easy to diagnose and treat.

Read on to learn how ringworm is contracted, how long it's contagious, and how to prevent spreading.

A ringworm rash on a human

alejandrophotography / Getty Images

Yes, Ringworm Is Contagious

Ringworm is contagious. There are more than 40 different species of fungi that can cause the infection. There are various names for the condition depending on where the ringworm is located and what species of fungi it belongs to. These include:

  • Tinea corporis: Ringworm on the body
  • Tinea capitis: Ringworm of the scalp
  • Tinea pedisis (athlete's foot)
  • Tinea cruris (jock itch)

The fungi that impact humans and animals are usually different. Microsporum canis is typically found in animals, whereas Trichophyton is more common in humans. But all fungi species can be spread between humans and animals.

Ease of Transmission

Ringworm spreads through high-touch areas. The fungi cause the infection to survive on dead keratin, the protein found on the top layer of the skin and in hair and nails. Ringworm can also be transmitted through contact with infected personal items (like a sweater or comb) or in wet or humid locations like locker rooms or yoga studios.

In Humans

Anyone can get ringworm, especially people who work with animals, play close-contact sports (like wrestling), or frequently use public showers. Those with weak or suppressed immune systems are more susceptible as well.

It's easy to contract or transmit ringworm from your cat or dog, especially if you share blankets or pillows. Ringworm can also spread to other parts of your body.

In Pets

Kittens and puppies are more susceptible to ringworm than cats and dogs. And cats, especially long-haired cats, are more frequently infected than dogs. Farm animals can also pass the infection.

Not all animals show signs of ringworm; however, they can still be contagious. Ringworm in animals appears as skin patches, circles, and red or crusty rash. Your pet can also get ringworm in and between their claws and nails.

Your pet may pick up ringworm from boarding, at the dog park, or through any interaction with an infected animal or object. Visit your veterinarian if you suspect your pet has ringworm.

How Long Is Ringworm Contagious?

Ringworm is contagious during the incubation period, which typically lasts one to three weeks but may be shorter. You may not have symptoms during this time, but fungi can still be transmitted.

Once infected, you may feel itchy in four to 14 days (in the latter half of incubation). You'll notice a red, scaly, circular rash depending on where the infection is. Sometimes, ringworm on the scalp can cause bald patches.

You are still considered contagious as long as fungal spores are alive. If the rash is getting smaller, the fungi are dying off. Some medical professionals consider you noncontagious after beginning oral medication, but caution should still be used, especially in sick or immunocompromised individuals.

How Do You Stop Ringworm From Spreading?

Simple hygiene practices can help stop and prevent ringworm from spreading. These include:

  • Wash your hands after playing with pets.
  • Wear shower shoes when in public locker rooms.
  • Keep nails short and clean.
  • Disinfect areas that may be infected.
  • Wash items in hot water with vinegar.
  • Avoid sharing sports equipment.
  • Keep your socks and underwear clean.

If you suspect ringworm, see a medical professional immediately for treatment.

Can Ringworm Go Away on Its Own?

Ringworm can go away on its own, but it's not wise to take this treatment route, especially if you live or work with others. Ringworm can cause bacterial skin infections or skin disorders like contact dermatitis if not appropriately treated.

Ringworm Treatment

Treatment options for ringworm depend on where it is on the body. You may be prescribed topical antifungal cream or ointment for the rash. Antifungal shampoos will help treat issues of the scalp and beard. If the infection is widespread or resistant to topical medication, your healthcare provider may prescribe oral medication.

Veterinarians will prescribe antifungal shampoo, creams, dips, or oral medication for pets. It may be hard, but try to handle your pet as little as possible until the infection is cleared.

Always complete antifungal medication cycles in full, even if it looks like the infection is gone.


Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal infection that can spread between humans and animals. It typically appears on the skin, scalp, groin, fingers, and toes. Different species of ringworm fungi are found in animals and humans but are still transmittable.

Ringworm is contagious during incubation, about a week after transmission, and as long as the fungi are alive. With proper treatment and hygiene, ringworm can be cleared in about three weeks.

A Word From Verywell

Contracting ringworm can be frustrating, and it's easy to feel embarrassed when rashes occur, especially when they are visible on the skin or cause trouble with hair loss. The best way to treat ringworm is to get medication quickly from your healthcare provider, keep the infected area dry, and stay diligent in preventing further contamination.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does ringworm spread through touch?

    Yes, ringworm can spread through skin-to skin contact. It often appears in open places on the body, like the skin, scalp, and nails. It can also spread through humid or moist shared areas (like locker rooms) or infected objects like clothing or blankets.

  • Does ringworm live on surfaces?

    The fungi that cause ringworm can live on surfaces. They especially like warm or humid areas, like locker rooms or hot yoga studios. This type of transmission typically shows up in the form of athlete's foot.

  • Should I be around someone with ringworm?

    Yes. As long as you are careful not to touch or share objects with someone who is infected with ringworm, you can be around them without transmission.

9 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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