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Fungi are types of parasitic plants that include molds, mildew, and yeast. A fungal infection is an inflammatory condition in which fungi multiply and invade the skin, the digestive tract, the genitals, and other body tissues, particularly, the lungs and liver. Fungal infections of the skin are often called ringworm or tinea.
Microscopic fungi, which are called dermatophytes, often live exclusively on such dead body tissues as hair, the outer layer of the skin, and the nails. The fungus grows best in moist, damp, dark places with poor ventilation and on skin that is irritated, weakened, or continuously moist. Superficial fungal infections include tinea capitis, an infection of the neck and scalp; tinea barbae, also called barber's itch, along the beard area in adult males; tinea corporis on parts of the body, such as the arms, shoulders, or face; tinea cruris, or jock itch, involving the groin; tinea pedis, or athlete's foot; tinea versicolor; and tinea unguium, or infection of the nails. The term tinea gladiatorum is sometimes used to describe ringworm infections in atheletes. Tinea gladiatorum is most common in swimmers, wrestlers, and athletes involved in other contact sports. Fungal infections of the skin and nails are very common in children, but they can affect all age groups.
Systemic fungal infections occur when spores are touched or inhaled, or there is an overgrowth of fungi in or on the body. Such infections are most often a serious problem in those with suppressed immune systems. Candidiasis is a rather common fungal infection. When it occurs in the mouth, it is called thrush. Less often, it occurs in the mucous membranes of other parts of the digestive system, or in the vagina, heart valves, urinary tract, eyes, or blood. Other systemic fungal infections include aspergillosis, which mostly affects the lungs and may also spread to the brain and kidneys; blastomycosis, a lung infection that may spread through the bloodstream; coccidioidomycosis, also known as San Joaquin or valley fever; mucormycosis, which can develop into a very serious, life-threatening infection; and histoplasmosis.
Author Info: Patience Paradox, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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