You may have noticed as the weather turns to autumn the abundance of fungi all around us.

They are diverse and include many species such as yeasts, moulds and mushrooms. Fungi are parasitic, which means they live and feed off another organism (their host). A fungus uses its host as a source of food, obtaining nutrients to survive.

A small group of fungi are responsible for causing fungal infections in humans; these fungal infections can vary in severity considerably from infections in the skin, hair, and nails to severe infections of the lungs, bone, internal organs.

Dermatophytes are responsible for the majority of fungal nail infections – around 90% of toenail and more than 50% of fingernail infections.

The most common dermatophytes which cause fungal nail infections are Trichophyton rubrum (pictured) and Trichophyton mentagrophytes.

Dermatophytes are adapted to living in tissues that contain the protein keratin which they need to feed on to grow and reproduce. Keratin is found in abundance in skin, hair and nails. Fungi use hyphae – long tubular structures – to invade the nail structures. The hyphae grow and spread through the cells like the roots of a tree, secreting digestive enzymes from their hyphae to break down the keratin and absorb the nutrients.

The absorption of nutrients requires water, which is one of the reasons fungi prefer damp environments like moist shoes and gym changing rooms which provide ideal living environments. Although the fungus needs a host to grow and reproduce, fungal spores can remain in a dormant state and can live for more than a year in the environment away from the body.

Read more about fungal nail infections – here


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