by M. P. Vora

The Home Doctor

(A Practical Guide to Good Health)

Volume No. IV, number. 7 of November 1965.

Page No. 1 to 7.


Fungus diseases are quite common. Today more and more people are finding that large numbers of their complaints are due to fungus infections. Just as our bodies’ harbour bacteria so also fungi can live and grow in our bodies. In fact, a person with fungus infection is a living, walking and talking garden, for the body of the infected person is covered with plant life. Fungi that cause human diseases are rarely visible to the naked eye and can only be seen under high power microscope. They infect the keratinised portion of the epidermis and invade the dermis only in special cases. Fungus infection can run an acute or chronic course. Fungi produce endotoxins which can produce profound effects either locally or distally or both.


There are many kinds of fungi; some are purely human, some are animal and some are common to both the human and the animal. Fungus is merely a form of plant life. It includes molds, yeasts and rusts, that do not contain its own chlorophyll. It can not manufacture its own food directly from sunlight and water as others plants do. It has to find food elsewhere. Fungi grow in dark, damp cellers, on rotten food etc in spots. They merely grow as they have no organs of reproduction. Our bodies are suitable for their colonization. Our skin, hair, nails and crevices of the body are as congenial as any damp dark cave. We are in fact their meat. Fungi produce millions of tiny inert particles called spores and strands. When these fall on or in our bodies, they become active provided the conditions are favourable. And the result is fungus infection.


There are various types of fungi which produce different diseases. Some diseases are mild while others are virulent and can cause even death. A generalized acute eruption of the skin due to absorption of the toxins from a localized area of fungus infection may occur during the acute and chronic course of disease (cheiropompholyx) but that disappears spontaneously when the primary focus of infection is cured.


The diagnosis of fungus disease is unpalatable to think of, often disturbs our minds and hurts our dignity. But fungus diseases are not at all new. They have always been with us but many of them were unrecognized in the past or mistakened for other diseases. Until recently they were difficult to diagnose and still more difficult to cure speedily. But now they can be diagnosed correctly and treated more easily and speedily than before.


Fungus can attack in different ways: (1) superficially, (2) deeply or (3) systematically. The term ringworm or tinea as doctors call it, is any fungus infection of the skin. Tinea Capitis, Tinea Barbae, Tinea Corporis, Tinea Cruris, Tinea Pedes and Tinea Unguem are merely descriptive terms to specify the area involved. The name ringworm has its origin in the appearance of the disease on the skin. The lesions have invariably ringed outline and have tendency towards spontaneous healing in the older central areas. When the skin is infected, there is superficial inflammation of the skin; ring-like shapes of lesions are noticed on the skin. While spreading at the periphery, the lesion tends to clear in the centre, thus producing a new ring well in the middle of the old one.


Mycelium (a many celled mass of thread-like strands and spores either large or small) looks a bit serpentine when seen through the microscope. The treatment of these diseases has changed radically in the last few years. Formerly, ointments and paints to kill fungi are chiefly used often with unsatisfactory results. Now, a new drug called griseofulvin F.P. has been developed and found to work well on human ringworm infections. Especially, for the scalp and nail infections, it has proved to be the miracle drug. The drug does not kill but merely stops the growth of fungus. Since the surface of the skin is being continually shed and replaced by new surface, the fungus disappears with the old skin surface. For growing hair, a hair-cut is all that is needed for a cure.



The fungus affects the skin primarily and the hair secondarily. When the hair is attacked, the fungus proceeds to grow downwards through the shaft of the hair towards the root. Some fungi first invade the hair follicles, pass down the hair roots and only when they have got at the roots, they attack the hair and grow upwards. There are three different types of ringworm of the scalp: - (1) Dry scaly; the borders of the ring are sharply defined and raised, the patches are covered with broken hair, hair are covered with white envelopes and have lost their lustre. (2)Black dot; bald areas are studded with black dots or stumps of hair broken off at points of exits from the follicles. The surface of the hair is intact but inside they are packed with spores. (3)Pustular; It may be mild or severe. Boggy swellings appear from which sero-pus oozes out from gaping follicles.


Ringworm of the scalp is very contagious. It is often met with children especially in orphanages and boarding schools where prolonged contacts with each other are frequent. It may spread through barbers’ backs of seats, use of combs, brushes and hats contaminated by infected persons. Animals like dogs, cats, horses, and cows can be carriers of infection. In the past, it used to run a prolonged course and needed more than two years for a cure. Local applications, X-ray treatment or orally thallium acetate for epilation purposes, were used. Now with the new drug, it can be cured in about 2 to 3 months. Diagnosis is made by examining the patient’s hair under ultraviolet light, filtered through Wood’s glass (glass containing nickel oxide). The infected hair shows the greenish fluorescence. Griseofulvin F.P. stops the growth of the fungus, when the hair grows out; hair-cut is all that is needed to cure a person.



Two forms; (1) a flat scaly with round dry reddish patches, superficial mild inflammation. (2) Deep suppurative; browny infiltrated swellings resembling blind boils appear. It causes great discomfort and pain, hair break at the roots and pus oozes from the follicular openings. Infection from animals or barber’s razor is the cause. The new drug is effective and has dispensed with X-ray epilation.



Dry scaly round patches, spreading at the periphery, clearing in the centre, forming rings. Itching is common. Local applications are quite effective. There are no mechanical obstacles to the action of the parasiticides in Tinea Corporis such as exist in Tinea of the scalp. Tincture Iodine and White field’s ointment are very much in use. If they fail to work within a few days, one may have to switch over to griseofulvin. Cure should be insight in a few weeks period.



It is caught from direct or indirect contact with an object such as infected clothes. It is more common in men than in women. Red maculo-papules spread and coalesce to form a patch. The advancing margin is raised and vesicular. It may spread to adjoining area. Itching is often intense and starching leads to secondary infection. Because of the moisture warmth and friction, maceration of the surface is not uncommon. Relapses occur almost every rainy season. Cotton under-clothes should be changed frequently and boiled. Local applications are curative.



Three forms: - (1) Dry scaly concentric rings on the palms. (2) Vesicular eruption of the fingers. (3) Hyperkeratatic or thickened surface of the palms.


Ringworm of the feet (Athletes Foot), this is very common in the hot humid areas. Sweat favours the infection. Three forms are recognized (1) Intertriginous or between the toes especially in the two outer spaces. Sodden white epidermis, fissures giving pain and discomfort. (2) Dry scaly or moist small vesicular type involving soles and sides of the feet. (3) Hyperkeratotic leading to thickening of the skin.


Foot infections are more common in men than in women. The fungus is the most tenacious parasite to get rid off. Boots and shoes need to be disinfected with formalin or lysol. Woollen socks worn by the person should be destroyed. Cotton socks should be washed and boiled in water daily. Dusting antiseptic powder must be used freely to keep interspaces between toes dry and to prevent the growth of the fungus. It is advisable to persist in applying remedies till clinical and microscopic examination indicates that all fungus has been destroyed. Moisture and heat often predispose to infection. Feet must be kept clean and dry. Lighter and cooler shoes like open sandles should be used. Swimming pools, floors of bath or gymnasium, mats etc spread infection. However, the exact mode of transference of infection is not known. It is common to find a member of a family having the infection while others are free, though all of them use the same bathroom. The infected person should desist from using public swimming pools.



It is common in tropics. It is often associated with ringworm of the skin, hands, foot or elsewhere. Nails of the hand or foot usually two or three are affected. The fungus invades the tips or sides of the nail plate and finally the entire nail gets involved. The nail plate is pushed up from its bed, looks dirty, greyish-black, thickened, irregular, brittle, furrowed and friable. Normal translucency of a healthy nail is lost. There is no pain or discomfort. Curing this condition is quite a process involving patience and perseverance. Six months would be a fast cure; a couple of years would come as no surprise. Local applications and griseofulvin are quite effective in getting rid of the infection. However, it is good to have a regular check-up and advice from the doctor; for the continued use of griseofulvin may produce harmful reactions. Regular supervision by the doctor is necessary. Before the development of the new drug, treatment was often prolonged and not always satisfactory.



It affects superficial skin of the neck, chest and the back. One can see visible accumulations of the fungus on the affected skin. It does not hurt or itch. Local applications of the ointment or lotion bring about cure.


MONILIASIS (Candidiasis)

It is a yeast-like fungus and affects mucous membrane, mouth and at times the skin too. It is common in diabetics, anaemics and children. Sometimes, the prolonged use of penicillin is responsible for the development of monilia fungus. Excessive dampness gives favourable conditions for the growth of the fungus. Lesions at the angles of the mouth (Perleche), nail infection (Perionychia), infection of the genital passage in the female (Vaginitis), nipples of the breast, mouth in babies, at times lungs and kidneys may be affected. The antibiotic, Mycostatin has been found very effective against this fungus. Local applications to the skin are effective.



It affects the head due to the use of infected hair brush or comb, and produces itching of the scalp, dandruff and baldness. It also affects the skin on the chest and back in between shoulder blades, face and neck. Local applications are effective. Regular bath with soap and water, and clean clothing have prophylactic effect.



This fungus infection is common in children. It may attack scalp, body skin or nails. It runs an intractable course. The fungus is heaped up in a characteristic fashion; straw-coloured masses with central depression (crusts) can be seen on the body. Involvement of the follicular orifices results in extensive baldness.





Chronic inflammatory disease of the foot due to the vegetable fungus, which finds its way in the skin usually through an abrasion caused by a thorn. The affected part becomes swollen and hard; small nodules appear, soften and burst to form openings. Necrosis or death of bone may occur. The general health of the sufferer is not affected. The disease is common to farmers.



Ray fungus which exists on straw, hay, oats, barley and wheat gives rise to chronic inflammatory disease. Horses and cattle acquire diseases from fodder. Human infection results through an abrasion in the skin or mucous membrane of the mouth. The chief sites of involvement are the skin, face and neck. Deep seated nodules which grow insidiously and slowly, soften and produce multiple intractable sinuses. The affected part presents board-like hardness and assumes red violacesus hue. Sulpha drugs, potassium iodide and penicillin are used for treatment.



Though fungi affect the skin generally, certain fungi can go deep into the body and can produce diseases almost in any organ of the body, resulting in marked disabilities. Griseofulvin has no effect on systemic fungus infection. A new antibiotic, Amphotericin B has proved effective but some unpleasant side effects.


Besides, there are many soil fungi which can attack our health. Some of the diseases are Coccidioidomycosis, Histoplasmosis, Blastomycosis, Spirotricosis, etc. Medicine in spite of recent advances has not perfected treatment for deep fungus infections. However, griseofulvin and amphotericin B have revolutioned the treatment of fungus diseases, which will be with us for sometime to come. But there is a ray of hope to have no frustrations in curing these unpleasant infections.