Trichophyton is a grouping, or “genus,” of fungi that includes many different species. All are related from a biological perspective, but practically speaking they can be really different; they live in different places, feed on different things, and have different appearances. Some live in the soil and others in the water. A few species actually thrive and grow on human hosts. Fungi in these classes feed on keratin, which is a protein found in human skin and hair, and these are primarily responsible for things like athlete’s foot and ringworm. Jock itch, fungal nail infections, and certain skin rashes can also be the fault of fungi in the broad trichophyton family.
The Genus in General
There are more than 20 species of fungus within this genus. In general, all are considered eurotiomycetes, which is a classification term. They reproduce through the distribution of spores, and most are fairly simple organisms when viewed on a cellular level. Most are virtually unknown to anyone outside of the biological or scientific world; this is particularly true of those that thrive in the deep ocean, or beneath the soil in specific geographic locations.
Species that Impact Humans
There are a few species that can be very noticeable to humans if and when the spores come into contact with the skin. These species are generally known as “anthropophilic,” which means that they prefer human hosts to other possible habitats. Species in this category include concentricum, megnini, and rubrum. All are considered to be dermatophytes, meaning they require the nutrients in skin for growth and reproduction. Infections are usually both uncomfortable and persistent, and in many cases can only be killed off with medicated ointments or pharmaceutical drugs.
The most common symptoms of this sort of skin infection include inflammation, itching, pain, foul odors, blisters, and other dermatological conditions. The scalp and nails are usually included in “skin” in these contexts. Some people are more susceptible to dermal fungal infections than others. Certain conditions, however, can serve as catalysts for the infections. People who suffer from irritated skin, psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, and other skin disorders may be particularly vulnerable to fungal infections.
One of the most well known problems caused by this particular fungus is athlete’s foot. Trichophyton rubrum is usually to blame in these cases; this species thrives in areas that are warm and moist. People often contract the fungus from sweaty socks, hence the name, but it can also come from pools, changing rooms, or communal showers. Anywhere that is more or less perpetually wet and steamy can be a good breeding ground.
Ringworm is another common condition. When trichophyton causes ringworm, it presents as an uncomfortable infection that manifests as large, raised rashes and lesions on the skin. Most don’t respond to regular lotions or over-the-counter rash creams. There are a variety of topical and oral pharmaceuticals that can treat these types of infections, usually containing a cocktail of medications. Some of the most common include terbinafine, ketoconazole, clotrimazole, and miconazole. A physician might also recommend taking oral antifungal medications to treat the condition.
The most effective way to prevent these sorts of fungal infections is usually to keep the skin as dry as possible. This often includes wearing breathable clothes and, in the warmer summer months or during intense aerobic activity like sports, making sure to change into fresh clothing periodically. The same sweaty socks should not be worn over and over, for instance, and shirts and shorts should be laundered regularly.
Practicing good hygiene can also help. Regularly washing hands, showering daily, and wearing shoes or sandals to walk across wet, dirty floors can prevent the fungus from ever coming into contact with the skin, or at least can prevent it from latching on. Many public shower facilities require bathers to wear some form of foot covering for exactly this reason.