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How Contagious Is Nail Fungus?

How Contagious Is Nail Fungus?

Whether it’s athlete’s foot or toenail fungus, fungal infections are highly contagious. And nail fungus can be notoriously difficult to treat without professional care, because it penetrates the surface of the toenail itself, causing telltale symptoms and infection that can easily spread. 

Common signs of a nail fungus infection include:

Worse yet? Nail fungus can affect your fingernails, too.

Juan-Carlos Caballero, MD, of Warrenton Dermatology & Skin Therapy Center in Warrenton, Virginia, recommends taking steps to avoid exposure to fungal infections in the first place. However, if you already have an infection, he can help.

The basics of nail fungus

Fungal infections develop when a fungal organism grows out of control. Approximately 90% of nail fungus infections occur because of exposure to a type of fungi called dermatophytes. 

Dermatophytes need a specific protein, keratin, to grow. And guess what? Keratin is the main substance in your nails that makes them hard. Fungi also thrive in warm, moist, dark places, making your toenails and feet an ideal environment. 

When exposed to a fungal organism, anyone can develop an infection. However, certain factors can increase your chances of getting a fungal infection in your nails, such as:

Your chances of developing nail fungus also grow if you use public swimming pools or showers, which increases your exposure to new fungi sources.

How nail fungus spreads

Approximately 1 in 10 Americans develop nail fungus at some point, and those numbers soar to 50% once people reach age 70. This is due to the highly contagious nature of these infections and how they spread quickly through infected surfaces.

One leading cause of nail fungus is athlete’s foot. This common infection affects the skin on the feet and spreads when a barefoot touches a contaminated surface. However, just because it starts on your skin doesn’t mean it will stay there. Athlete’s foot can also infect your toenails.

Places where people often get exposed to athlete’s foot include:

Generally speaking, you run the risk of getting athlete’s foot in any public place where people don’t wear shoes.

In addition to athlete’s foot, you can also get exposed to fungal infections at nail salons because of contact with infected tools, such as clippers and files. When using a professional nail service, ask about their sanitizing procedures for each tool.

Finally, you can also get nail fungus if you live with someone who has an infection.

Treating nail fungus

Because nail fungus can be notoriously difficult to treat, Dr. Caballero recommends taking extra precautions to avoid exposure. This often includes:

And, if you notice the signs of foot or nail fungus despite your best preventive methods, don’t wait to see an expert. This is especially crucial if you have a medical condition, such as diabetes. 

Dr. Caballero can identify the issue and outline the best course of treatment, which could involve prescription topical or oral medications. 

Could you have nail fungus? To get a thorough evaluation — and treatment if needed — call 540-701-4656 or request an appointment online with Warrenton Dermatology & Skin Therapy Center today.

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