Skin

Updated 12 October 2017

6 fungal infections you need to be aware of

There are very few people who have not had to cope with some kind of fungal infection at some stage of their lives.

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Of the thousands of species of fungi, there are only a few that can cause disease or discomfort in people.

Furthermore, invasive fungal disease is relatively rare in healthy persons because of our sophisticated immune systems. However, serious fungal diseases frequently occur in immunocompromised patients.

Compromised immunity

Uncontrolled HIV infection, for example, makes many people vulnerable to lethal fungal diseases.

Cancer treatments (e.g. chemotherapy) and diabetes can also compromise our immunity.

In addition, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants and prolonged courses of antibiotics can also make the body more susceptible to fungal infections.

According to Human Diseases Forum and Conditions, fungi can cause anything from minor skin conditions to life-threatening diseases. Opportunistic fungal infections include Aspergillosis, Candidiasis and Mucormycosis.

Fungi can produce two kinds of infections, i.e. systemic and superficial. Systemic infections affect internal organs (e.g. lungs, blood, heart, brain, kidneys and liver), while superficial infections affect the skin, nails and hair.

Common fungal infections

Fortunately superficial fungal infections are much more common and there are very few people who have not had to cope with at least one of the following at some stage of their lives:

1. Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis) is a fungal infection of the feet with itching, scaling and redness. It can be caused by a number of different fungi, including Trichophyton, Epidermophyton and Microsporum.


2. Ringworm (Tinea Corporis) can appear in the form of a red or silver rash anywhere on the body. It is usually ring-shaped and is most commonly caused by the fungus Trichophyton rubrum


3. Tinea Capitis is ringworm that affects the scalp.


4. Onychomycosis is a fungal infection of the toenails or fingernails that can involve any component of the nail, including the matrix, bed or plate. It can cause pain, discomfort and disfigurement. Onychomycosis is caused by various fungal organisms, the most common being dermatophyte. Yeast and moulds also cause nail infections.


5. Tinea Versicolor or pityriasis versicolor is a common condition that causes small patches of skin to become scaly and discoloured. They can be darker or lighter than the surrounding skin, or even red or pink. The condition is caused by a yeast called Malassezia, which lives on the skin of most people without causing any problems.


6. Cutaneous Candidiasis can involve almost any skin area of the body, but mostly occurs in warm, moist, creased areas such as the armpits and groin. Candida is the most common cause of nappy rash in infants. Candida is also common in people who are obese or have diabetes. Antibiotics, steroid therapy and chemotherapy increase the risk of cutaneous Candidiasis.


Candida can also cause:

  • Infections of the nails
  • Infections of the corners of the mouth
  • Oral thrush (a form of infection of the moist lining of the mouth)
  • Vaginal yeast infections

Image credits: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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