Yesterday on the on the drive home from the office I was listening to “Here and Now” hosted by Laura Di Battista on CBC radio. She was talking with Michael Bhardwaj (@radiobhardwaj) the national science columnist for CBC Radio. He was discussing a flip flop fungus experiment that was reported by Jason Feifer in the New York Magazine. Michael outlined the variety of fungus and bacteria found on the upper surface of flip flops to Laura’s horror. Michael stated even though there are many bacteria and fungus on the surface of your feet and flip flops, our healthy immune systems can deal with the bacteria and fungus. He suggested washing the upper surface of your flip flops touching your feet with soap and water. This gets rid of 99.9% of the bacteria and fungus.
Foot fungus is a common complaint that I treat on a daily basis in my office. A fungi is a microscopic plant like organism that thrives in moist, humid and dark environments. A mushroom that grows on a lawn or in a forest is a fungus that feeds on wood. In contrast, the fungus that infects the foot feeds off a protein called keratin found in the skin and nails.
Foot fungus appears in a number of presentations on the skin and nails of the foot. A fungal skin infection is called tinea pedis. One of the most common areas for a fungal skin infection is in between the toes. A fungal infection in between the toes results in red, hot, split, itchy and wet skin. A fungal nail infection is called onychomycosis. A fungal infection of the nail results in a thick, yellow and sometimes painful nail.
How can you get a fungal infection of the skin and nails? First, the fungal organism requires entry via some type of damage to the skin or nails. Second, the body’s immune system needs to be compromised. If the body’s immune system is compromised by stress, poor nutrition or disease such as diabetes a fungal foot infection can easily occur. I have many patients who have diabetes and fungal nails. Foot fungus is naturally found on human skin and is prevented from becoming a problem by virtue a complex interaction between “good” and “bad” bacteria on your skin. The good bacteria on the skin are like a “neighborhood watch program” repelling the bad bacteria. As long as there is good bacteria on your skin the likely hood of any type on skin or nail infection is low.
Unfortunately, the fungus that causes skin and nail infections has the ability to survive and infect another day. The fungus can produce a seed or spore that can survive for years. Once the conditions for growth are present the spore will germinate and cause another fungal skin or nail infection. This fact makes preventing a reinfection of skin and nails difficult because the spores can be found in an old pair of shoes or on top of your flip flops from the previous summer. Make sure you disinfect your shoe and socks of spores. Our office dispenses a couple of products that help to disinfect your shoes.