Trichophyton is the fancy scientific name for a group of fungi that are very familiar to most people even if they don’t recognize the clinical name. Typical encounters with Trichophyton include, but are not necessarily limited to: athlete’s foot, jock itch, nail fungus, ringworm, and similar afflictions, all of which are quite common amongst people, even those who consider themselves quite clean, and in fact, their penchant for bathing may in fact be a part of the problem.
All fungi take the form of either a yeast or a mold, although there are a few that can have either form depending on environmental conditions, and these types of fungi are almost always very bad for people as they typically cause very severe, even life threatening diseases. Fortunately, this is not true of most fungi in the world, of which there are somewhere between 1.5 and 5 million species. The vast majority have no interest in, or ability to infect, people, but a small number of them can make you sick. In the case of Trichophyton, the form is that of a mold, meaning, amongst other things, that it grows through filaments instead of buds like yeast does. And, like most all fungi, Trichophyton loves water and can often be found in damp spaces in the world and on the human body.
The natural environment and home for Trichophyton is the dirt outside in the world. Some species of Trichophyton, and there are quite a few, also infect animals. Humans only accidentally become infected and probably are not a good long term home for Trichophyton. Children commonly acquire this infection through playing outside, or with pets, a behavior which is quite good for children, playing in the dirt and with pets that is, since it is believed that frequent outdoor play by children trains the immune system to recognize and respond to actual threats to health instead of becoming bored in an overly sterile environment, such as some parents today try to create, and then turning in on the body itself, or over reacting to harmless things, thus leading to autoimmune diseases and/or rampant allergies.
Trichophyton is what is known as a dermatophyte, which simply means that it infects the surface layers of the body, only extremely rarely, if ever, does it have the ability to infect the internal organs. Trichophyton likes to grow on the skin and the hair of those infected, and these infections can be anywhere there is skin, or hair, although infection is more common on those areas that are more consistently warm and damp.
Trichophyton in People
One of the most common manifestations of Trichophyton in children is the condition known as ringworm. This is a complete misnomer, since while there certainly are worms that can infect the human body, they are very rare in the Westernized parts of the world and what we call ringworm is not a worm at all. Instead, it is a fungal infection of the skin that sometimes takes on a circular appearance that with some imagination applied could look like a worm lying just under the skin. This infection is almost always caused by one of several species of Trichophyton, commonly T. mentagrophytes or T. rubrum. It is easily treated with topical creams that are available by prescription for your child’s doctor.