We’ve all heard that athlete’s foot (scientifically known as tinea pedis) is one very contagious foot fungus. Yet, just how contagious is it? Should you be worried whenever you step foot in your gym’s locker room, or should you just avoid using other people’s towels to dry off? A few famous cases of athlete’s foot outbreaks show just how an epidemic can grow from just a few scales of foot fungus shed in a public place.
1980: Tinea Pedis Outbreak Hits a Tire Factory in Sicily
In November 1980, it was discovered that 102 men working at the same tire factory in Sicily, Italy came down with athlete’s foot. The vast majority of cases (75) were caused by the Trichophyton mentagrophytes fungus type, with 18 cases related to C. albicans, nine cases from Trichophyton Rubrum, two cases from Rhodotorula, two cases from Hypopichia burtonii, and one case from Geotrichum candidum.
In 48 cases, the toenails were affected by the foot fungus as well. The men suffered from fungus that covered the heel and ball of the foot, but primarily spread between the fourth and fifth toes. Many men also had lesions on their hands and groin area. They brought the fungus home to family members by December, so the fungal outbreak was considerably widespread.
After conducting a thorough investigation, researchers uncovered that the high level of humidity in the bath house, along with the presence of keratin debris skin flakes, created the perfect environment for the fungus to proliferate and spread. Tinea pedis was found on the shower stall floors, inside the foot wash basins, and on towels in the facility.
1997: Athlete’s Foot Plagues a Swimming Pool in Japan
Nearly two decades later, a high prevalence of interdigital tinea pedis was found among athletes at the University of Tsukuba. School researchers looked at 282 athletes, 140 students enrolled in a swim class, and 137 non-athletes to determine the root cause of infection. Athletes showed a much higher rate of foot fungus infection compared to non-athletes. Furthermore, cotton swabs revealed the presence of Trichophyton mentagrophytes fungus among 63.6% of the swim class students. They found dermatophytes on the swimming pool floor and in the public bath house, so anyone using the pool was at risk.
2007: Tinea Pedis Outbreaks Are Common Among Soccer Players
A 2007 study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that 69% of professional male soccer players and 43% of professional female soccer players were infected with athlete’s foot. Comparatively, only 20% of male non-athletes and no female non-athletes had foot fungus. The results suggested that athletes are at significant risk for developing athlete’s foot due to the warm, moist locker room environments they frequent, shared shower and pool facilities, and the watertight footwear they use.
The Bottom Line:
Athlete’s foot infections are common and easily transmitted, especially when you’re in close quarters with others in wet environments. In addition to taking care to avoid going barefoot in these public places and sharing towels, we also recommend keeping your feet as dry as possible and using the SteriShoe UV light shoe sanitizer in your footwear each day to kill up to 99.9% of the fungal spores in just one 45-minute treatment.