How Long Is Ringworm Contagious If Treated vs. Untreated? (2023)


Ringworm (tinea corporis) is an infection of the skin caused by tiny fungus spores that reproduce in the dead outer layers of your skin. It’s contagious as long as any spores are alive. This means it can spread on contact to other parts of your body, or to other people, even when you’re being treated.

While ringworm may clear up on its own, there’s no set timetable for this. It’s best to seek treatment.

Several different species of fungus can cause tinea.

The name ringworm comes from the circular, ring-like appearance of the red, itchy spots that tinea causes on the skin of your trunk or extremities. Tinea can cause infections on other parts of the body, but then it often doesn’t have the same appearance as ringworm.

Ringworm is highly contagious, and it spreads easily from person to person (and even from animal to person).

(Video) Ringworm (Tinea Corporis) | Causes, Risk Factors, Signs & Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) and jock itch (tinea cruris) are caused by the same organism as ringworm. It’s called ringworm when it appears on other parts of your body.

The feet and the crotch area provide a warm, moist environment for the microscopic fungal spores, known as dermatophytes, to live and reproduce. Their food supply is the protein, or keratin, that is found in your skin, especially the dead outer layers.

Athlete’s foot is often spread in showers and locker rooms because the fungal spores can live and reproduce in puddles and wet spots, especially when the water is warm.

Once the fungus has infected your feet, you can spread it to other parts of your own body by touching.

Sharing towels, clothing, and bedding can spread it from person to person.

Ringworm and pets

You can also catch ringworm from an infected pet, though this is less common. But the species of fungi that causes ringworm in pets is different from those common among humans. These fungi may sometimes be transferred to a person in close contact with the pet, but the ringworm is not as likely to spread from that person to another.

Microsporum canis (M. canis) is the most common form of ringworm in pets. Cats and dogs can both carry it, but cats are considered the most important hosts. It’s also regularly found on horses and rabbits. Long-haired breeds such as Persian cats and Yorkshire terriers are reported to be more susceptible.

Both humans and animals can be carriers without showing symptoms of ringworm infection.

The incubation period for ringworm in humans is usually one to two weeks. Because the fungal spores are present before you see the ringworm outbreak, you can catch it from someone even before it shows up on them.

There are also some people and animals who can have ringworm but show no symptoms. They can still transfer the ringworm to you.

M. canis, the common cause of ringworm in pets, can be seen under an ultraviolet light (black light). Under an ultraviolet light, it may appear on the fur within seven days of exposure. But it takes two to four weeks for the symptoms to show up on the animal’s skin. During that time, your pet may be infectious without your seeing any symptoms.


As long as the fungal spores are present in the skin, the ringworm can be spread from person to person, or animal to person. You don’t stop being contagious when you start using antifungal medication. However, once you start treatment, if you cover the lesions you can significantly decrease the risk of spreading them to others.

(Video) How contagious is ringworm in humans

The condition is contagious until all the spores are eliminated from your skin. It’s difficult even for a doctor to know when all of the fungal spores have been killed.

The fungal spores can also stay alive on clothing, bedding, and elsewhere as long as their food supply (dead skin cells) is present, and they have a moist and warm environment. Spores can live for as long as 12 to 20 months in the right environment.

There’s no set time limit for a ringworm infection. Without treatment, it may go away on its own in a matter of months in a healthy person. Or it may not.

Ringworm on the body is usually treated with a topical ointment such as terbinafine. A four-week course is common, but the time can vary.

With treatment, a ringworm infection on a part of the body without hair (glabrous skin) is likely to clear up within two to four weeks of the start of treatment.

More serious cases, and infections in the scalp, can require oral antifungal pills. In this case, too, you’re contagious until all the fungal spores are eliminated.

(Video) Is it ringworm? Signs and symptoms

The standard treatment for ringworm is a topical antifungal preparation, such as terbanifine (Lamisil AT).

In more serious cases, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal, such as terbanafine, itraconazole (Sporanox, Orungal), or fluconazole (Diflucan, Celozole).

Maintaining good general hygiene is the best prevention against ringworm. Ringworm often spreads from your feet or groin area, so preventing athlete’s foot and jock itch can be a first line of defense.

(Video) Do you have Ringworm? 🪱 #shorts

Some tips:

  • Always wear protective footwear in public showers, locker rooms, and pool areas.
  • Dry carefully after showering, especially your toes and groin area.
  • Wear cotton underwear.
  • Never share towels, clothing, or bedding.
  • Avoid skin contact with children and pets who may be infected.


Can you spread ringworm while being treated? ›

Ringworm (tinea corporis) is an infection of the skin caused by tiny fungus spores that reproduce in the dead outer layers of your skin. It's contagious as long as any spores are alive. This means it can spread on contact to other parts of your body, or to other people, even when you're being treated.

What happens if ringworm goes untreated? ›

If left untreated, the area can become boggy (spongy), discharge pus and develop areas of hair loss. This form of ringworm is most common in children.

How long is ringworm contagious on a surface? ›

Ringworm is contagious as long as lesions are present. It stops being contagious about 24-48 hours after treatment begins.

Is it safe to be around someone with ringworm? ›

People can get ringworm after contact with someone who has the infection. To avoid spreading the infection, people with ringworm shouldn't share clothing, towels, combs, or other personal items with other people.

How quickly does ringworm go away once treated? ›

How Long Does Ringworm Last? Most mild cases of ringworm usually clear up in 2 to 4 weeks. But treatment might be needed for up to 3 months if the infection is more serious, or affects the nails or the scalp.

When do you know ringworm is healing? ›

Antifungal medication will easily resolve a ringworm infection, removing symptoms within a few days. Ringworm on the skin, such as tinea pedis (athlete's foot) and tinea cruris (jock itch), usually clears up in two to four weeks when treated using nonprescription antifungal medicine.

Why is ringworm so hard to cure? ›

Because the fungi can live indefinitely on the skin, recurrences of ringworm are likely. Treatment may need to be repeated. If you have ringworm symptoms, see your healthcare provider for treatment recommendations. It is important to note that common home remedies do not effectively treat this condition.

Can you touch someone with ringworm and not get it? ›

Myth 5: Ringworm isn't contagious

In fact, the opposite is true. Ringworm spreads easily from person to person, especially in communal areas like locker rooms and neighborhood pools. Ringworm is so contagious, in fact, that you don't even have to touch someone to get infected.

At what stage is ringworm contagious? ›

What are the incubation and contagious periods? Incubation period: 1 to 3 weeks but can be shorter. Contagious period: A child with ringworm of the skin is infectious as long as the fungus remains present in the skin lesion. The fungus is no longer present when the lesion starts to shrink.

Is ringworm contagious on sheets? ›

Anyone can get ringworm. The fungi that cause this infection can live on skin, surfaces, and on household items such as clothing, towels, and bedding.

Should someone with ringworm quarantine? ›

No. However, they should be excluded from certain activities that are likely to expose others to the fungus, such as using communal swimming pools or showers, sharing towels, sharing gym equipment or wrestling. Children receiving treatment for ringworm of the scalp may attend school once they start taking medication.

How do I prevent ringworm from spreading to my partner? ›

Don't walk barefoot in areas like locker rooms or public showers. Clip your fingernails and toenails short and keep them clean. Change your socks and underwear at least once a day. Don't share clothing, towels, sheets, or other personal items with someone who has ringworm.

How long can ringworm live on furniture? ›

Like most fungi, ringworm infections thrive in warm, damp places, including locker rooms and showers. Therefore, anyone who might sit on the same sofa, pick up clothing to wash it, or even use the same shower could become infected. Fungal spores can survive on surfaces in warm, damp areas for more than a year.

How long after getting ringworm are you contagious? ›

A person can use medicated ointments and creams to treat ringworm topically. For more severe infections, a person may need to take oral antifungal medications. Ringworm remains contagious during the first 48 hours of treatment in people and for about 3 weeks from the start of aggressive treatment in pets.

Should I cover ringworm to prevent spreading? ›

Let it breathe. It may seem logical to keep ringworm covered with a bandage to prevent spreading the infection. However, bandaging the rash locks in moisture and slows the healing process. Instead, wear comfortable, breathable clothes to speed healing and avoid spreading the rash to other people.

Can ringworm get worse during treatment? ›

Steroid creams can make ringworm worse because they weaken the skin's defenses. Steroid creams can allow ringworm infections to spread to cover more of the body. Ringworm that has been treated with steroid creams can have an unusual appearance, making it hard for healthcare providers to diagnose.

Do you have to quarantine with ringworm? ›

No. However, they should be excluded from certain activities that are likely to expose others to the fungus, such as using communal swimming pools or showers, sharing towels, sharing gym equipment or wrestling. Children receiving treatment for ringworm of the scalp may attend school once they start taking medication.

How do you know if ringworm is still contagious? ›

6 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. 6 If the rash is getting smaller, the fungi are dying off.

What kills ringworm in laundry? ›

Home remedies for ringworm

Your home may require treatment as well. The ringworm fungus can live on surfaces for months. Disinfectant sprays like Lysol® or bleach can remove the fungus. Wash clothes, sheets and towels in hot water and detergent to prevent ringworm from spreading.

How do you clean your house after ringworm? ›

mechanical removal of all hair and debris via vacuuming, sweeping (Swiffers recommended over brooms) and mechanical washing of the surfaces with detergent and water. It is important to thoroughly rinse surfaces as some detergent residue can inactivate disinfecting agents.

How long does it take for ringworm to go away with Lotrimin? ›

Ringworm usually goes away within 4 weeks of treatment.

Do I need to clean my house if I have ringworm? ›

Ringworm spores persist in the environment, making eradication difficult. So a successful outcome requires treatment of all pets and scrupulous cleaning of the home. To kill ringworm spores, clean and disinfect solid surfaces. Launder bedding and other fabric, small area rugs and soft articles.

What is the timeline for ringworm? ›

Symptoms typically appear between 4 and 14 days after the skin comes in contact with the fungi that cause ringworm.


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