Could foot fungus become a thing of the past?

Researchers reckon that the bacteria causing fungal infections can become extinct.
Researchers reckon that the bacteria causing fungal infections can become extinct.

Constantly battling with embarrassing, uncomfortable, unsightly athlete's foot?

The good news is that the fungus that causes nasty skin and toenail infections is headed for extinction.

The bad news is it could take millions of years.

Scientists analysed samples of Trichophyton rubrum fungus and concluded it may have lost its ability to sexually reproduce as it adapted to grow on humans.

This fungus is the most common cause of tinea pedis, known as athlete's foot. This condition usually occurs between the toes and causes severe itching.

How could the fungus become extinct?

"It is commonly thought that if an organism becomes asexual, it is doomed to extinction," said study senior author Dr Joseph Heitman. He is chair of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.

"While that may be true, the time frame we are talking about here is probably hundreds of thousands to millions of years," he added in a university news release.

But this research may help uncover vulnerabilities in the fungus that could result in better medications to fight it, according to authors of the study recently published online in the journal Genetics.

Avoid foot fungus in the meantime

About 25% of the world's population have fungal infections, and T. rubrum is often to blame. It is difficult to cure and may be drug-resistant.

People can become infected when walking barefoot around swimming pools, showers or locker rooms, or when sharing personal items such as towels or nail clippers.

Protect your feet by following these safety guidelines:

  • Keep your nails clean and dry. Dry feet your well after a bath or shower, especially between the toes.
  • Change socks at least daily, or more often if your feet perspire excessively.
  • Do not over-trim nails, or pick at and poke around the toenails; prevent minor injury which might provide an entry point for fungi.
  • Do not wear tight or ill-fitting shoes.
  • Try not to wear the same pair of shoes for two days in a row. Give a pair of shoes time to dry out.
  • Do not share shoes with someone else.
  • Do not walk barefoot in public or shared showers or locker rooms. Wear shower sandals or shower shoes.
  • Treat fungal infections as soon as they occur.
  • Consult your doctor when your symptoms don't clear up with over-the-counter treatment.

Image credit: iStock

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