A Fungus Among Us

Hey, Matt:

I see guys in the gym, usually older, who wear sandals in the shower, presumably to avoid athlete's foot. Now, if I drop my trunks on the gym shower floor and then put them back on, or if I were to sit in the tub at home and my roommate has athlete's foot, can I get athlete's ass? How about athlete's wang?

-- Let's keep me anonymous, eh?

D ear Anonymous: You may already have won $10,000,000! And you may already have had a case of athlete's crudbutt without realizing the foot connection. Ever had jock itch? Doctors would call that athlete's foot of the ass. The same little fungus buggers cause both problems (Tinea pedis). But I suppose, unless you'd been practicing naked kickboxing, there wouldn't be any reason for you to figure out the foot-ass crossover. The Tinea thingies are opportunistic and highly spreadable, as you might expect from a life form that depends mainly on damp, warm, wrinkly humans in order to procreate. They can't pass up any chance to hop on peopleskin if they want the species to survive.

You might spread athlete's foot from your feet to other parts of your own body with your hands or those sessions of naked meditation in the lotus position. But sitting on a wet shower floor or a wet tub might do the trick too. Athlete's elbows and athlete's pits can come from drying yourself with a damp, infected towel. Any cozy, humid place will keep Tinea happy. Old sneakers are a veritable Shangri-la.

Here's where I get a chance to stomp on a weird legend that has attached itself to athlete's foot. You cannot rid yourself of the insidious dermatophytes by peeing on them. This particular wrong-headedness might come from the fact that urea is one ingredient in medical creams prescribed to treat fungal infections. Therapeutic urea is very concentrated and only helps soften the crusty skin layer so the other ingredients in the salve can reach the root of the problem. It doesn't solve the problem. Cow pee was once the source of urea, but it's now made synthetically. Somebody should look into this "pee on it" school of first-aid advice; there's also a legend that peeing on a stingray wound will somehow help the situation. That's wrong too. I'd be interested to hear any other "pee on it" stories to see if we can establish a trend.

Pee's and Qs

We're still soliciting any stories you have about using urine as first aid. Apparently people believe it will cure stingray and jellyfish stings and athlete's foot. JoeM. from Encinitas adds another sea creature to the list.

[While diving in the Philippines] I felt an excruciating pain in my foot. Thinking I was stung by something and on the verge of death, I managed to swim back to shore in a panic. I told my Filipino friends what happened...[and] they told me I stepped on a sea urchin, and I should pee on my foot. After being assured I wasn't going to die, I let them know I wasn't going to pee on my foot. Later, when I went to the doctor, I told her about the "peeing on the foot" remedy. She said urchins' spines are very sharp and brittle so you can't pull them out, but you can help slowly dissolve them over time by applying spirits of ammonia to the affected area, hence peeing on it was actually helpful and not a joke. I applied ammonia to my foot for a month until the pain finally subsided. I have not checked to see the soundness of this medical advice when I got back to the States....

We'll save you a trip. Our own Dr. Doctor sez the ammonia and pee-on-it ideas are pretty much useless. A exotic form of international misinformation. Ammonia (and pee) might neutralize any venom from the sting but won't "dissolve" an embedded stinger. If you can't remove it, your body will eventually absorb it. Spontaneous recovery from an urchin sting usually takes about a month. Infection is your biggest risk. And if pee on an urchin or stingray sting is of no value, pee or ammonia on a jellyfish sting is counterproductive. It stimulates the release of even more stinging agents from the adhered tentacles. So pee isn't quite as valuable as we seem to think.

A different doctor, Doctor Larry, swats me with his diploma for calling all athlete's foot fungi Tinea pedis. Tinea is the critter's full name. The pedis part means it's living on your foot. It's T. capitis in your scalp, T. unguium under your toenails, and T. cruris if you've got jock itch. There are many more. Call Larry for a complete list.

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