Weekly Checkup: Foot fungus

Communal bathrooms are prime breeding grounds for foot fungus, wart-causing viruses and other bacteria. Though this issue does not cross most GW students’ minds, for the 468 undergrads that live in Mitchell Hall or in a Strong Hall single, these bacterial infections are a reality.

“Fungus grows in warm, moist areas,” said Susan Haney, associate director for Student Health Service, adding that it is “pretty contagious.”

Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis), widely known as foot fungus, is common nationwide. According to the medical Web site MedicineNet.com, approximately 70 percent of the population will contract the infection at some point during their lives. The symptoms of athlete’s foot are noticeable and easily treatable.

Haney specifically cited “a burning, itchy” feeling as the initial symptom. “It can get really uncomfortable,” she said. The skin may then begin to break down and become inflamed. If left untreated, the fungus can lead to secondary infections.

A more frequently trafficked bathroom will pose a greater threat of fungus, but all students can be at risk. For example, if your roommate uses the shower at the gym, Haney said, he or she may contract a fungus and transmit it to you through your shower. These unpleasant ailments also thrive in locker rooms and even in bathrooms shared by only a small group of people – for example, a six-person suite in Thurston.

If you do notice symptoms and suspect foot fungus, over-the-counter anti-fungal creams are very effective for treating athlete’s foot, said Haney.

“There are probably a lot more cases (of foot fungus) than we see,” Haney said. Many creams that once required a prescription can now be acquired in drugstore aisles and students can easily treat themselves.

“Students can always come (to the health center),” Haney said.

Haney advised students who have contracted athlete’s foot to use an anti-fungal cream immediately. If your feet do not burn or itch but show other symptoms of infection, it may be another kind of fungus or virus, in which case you should contact the health center.

The most important thing is to always wear flip-flops or shower shoes when in the shower and walking around the bathroom. It’s also time to toss your shower flip-flops when they no longer look intact.

“If the edges are torn, or if they are holding in moisture, it’s a good idea to change them,” Haney said. She also warns against sharing flip-flops with others.

Since bacteria grow in moist environments, you should always change out of wet or sweaty socks and be sure to wash them before wearing them again. Keep your shoes dry and change your socks everyday. You should also shower quickly after exercising and dry your feet well afterwards. Maintaining a clean bathroom, Haney said, can also help to fend off infection-causing bacteria.

“Weekly Checkup” is a regular feature in the Life section. If you have a health topic you want to know more about, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.