Metro Weekly

Why You Shouldn’t Panic About ‘Gay Ringworm’ Infection

While TMVII fungus can be more resistant than similar ringworm infections, current medications should offer adequate treatment.

Dr. Marcus Sandling - Photo Courtesy Callen-Lorde
Dr. Marcus Sandling – Photo Courtesy Callen-Lorde

It might seem like another summer of Gay Sex Panic.

News earlier this month from New York of a rare, drug-resistant fungal infection in a gay man follows Summer 2022’s Mpox mayhem and Summer 2021’s oceanside outbreak of COVID in the wake of Bear Week in Provincetown, Mass. 

Before anyone runs for the hypochondriac hills, however, clinicians are advising that the “First case of rare, sexually transmitted form of ringworm reported in the U.S.,” as NBC puts it, may be a bit more challenging than garden-variety jock itch, but shouldn’t conjure fungal-apocalypse fears worthy of The Last of Us.

“Hopefully there will be no zombies,” says Dr. Marcus Sandling, with a chuckle.

Sandling is the clinical director of sexual health at New York’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which focuses on LGBTQ health. “That’s the hope.” 

Dr. Avrom Caplan, a dermatologist with New York University’s Langone Health Medical Center, explained to Gothamist that this particular fungal infection, trichophyton mentagrophytes type VII (TMVII), “can be very itchy and scaly, like typical ringworm, but it also has the potential to be inflammatory and cause abscesses and scarring.”

He further described TMVII as a “superficial skin infection.” 

Sandling, who tells Metro Weekly he’s not personally aware of any cases of TMVII at Callen-Lorde, says he’s fairly certain there are more cases in New York than the single gay man identified as infected after recent travel in Europe, where a handful of cases have been seen in gay men, and who had multiple sexual partners while there.

Still, he adds, “I don’t want us to have another panic. What we’ve seen so far is that currently available treatments seem to be effective in the cases that have been discovered.”

Sandling explains that while TMVII may, indeed, be resistant to common topical fungal treatments, stronger oral treatments should clear the infection.

The concern, he explains, is that fungal infections are so common that someone infected with this stronger strain would have little way of knowing it. Nor is it a simple diagnosis. 

“It actually takes a pretty significant amount of scientific expertise to diagnose this type of infection,” he says. “It’s not something that’s readily available to most clinicians.

“I regularly see patients – almost once a week – with some type of fungal infection, be it jock itch, fungal infection of a toenail…. Because these things are so ubiquitous, it is sometimes hard to discern, is this just a run-of-the-mill fungal infection or something else?”

Sandling’s even-keeled guidance for crowded communities during these warm months is to simply be a bit more vigilant.

A rash can have any number of causes. Heat, moisture, and human proximity just add to the suspicious soup of our individual biomes.

And while a steroid cream, for example, might ease one sort of rash, steroids may worsen a fungal infection. When in doubt, seek medical help. 

“What people should do is just increase their awareness of what’s going on with their bodies,” he says. “If they notice they’re having symptoms similar to ringworm that aren’t resolving with normal treatment, either through topicals you buy at the pharmacy or a medication you’ve gotten from your clinician, you should have an increased level of suspicion and reconnect with your provider. As well as discuss any potential risk factors you may have.”

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