Voice 1: If you’ve ever suffered from athlete’s foot, and the terrible itching it causes between two toes, you’ll know the discomfort that feet fungi can cause. It can drive you mad! Athlete’s foot just appears from nowhere, and it is very difficult to get rid of once it has taken hold. Creams and powders sometimes do the trick, but the bacteria that cause the fungus are very unwilling to leave your toes once they’ve found a nice warm place to live.
Voice 2: A new study by scientists in America has shown that the foot is the favourite breeding ground on the body for fungal communities. Samples of fungi were taken from every area of the human body, and the foot was found to have more than two hundred different types of fungi. Athlete’s foot is just one of the infections these little invaders can cause.
Voice 1: Fungi live all over the human foot, but their favourite spots are the heel, under the toenails and between the toes. Most of the fungi cause no problems and live quite happily on your skin. But if they get too comfortable and multiply, they will cause infections like athlete’s foot.
Voice 2: Contrary to what the name suggests, you don’t have to be an athlete to get athlete’s foot, the most common fungal infection of them all. Fungal nail infections, where the toenail becomes thick and discoloured is another favourite, as is ringworm, a horrible sounding infection that brings out itchy red circles all over the foot.
Voice 1: The heel is a very popular place for fungi to stay. Scientists have identified over eighty different fungi colonising a typical human heel. A toenail can be home to sixty types of fungus, and on average, forty types reside between the toes where it is nice and wet and warm.
Voice 2: It is not clear why our feet attract so many different fungi, but while skin temperatures on the rest of our bodies stay quite stable, the temperature of our feet goes up and down all the time. Feet have more contact with the outside world than any other part of the body, and when they are not touching our surroundings they are stuffed inside shoes and socks. These handy containers provide wonderful breeding conditions for fungi.
Voice 1: Studies have yet to be carried out in communities where people keep their feet free of footwear. It would be interesting to count the number of different foot fungi on feet that are never contained by socks and shoes.
Voice 2: Dr Julia Segre from the US National Institute of Health sums up the findings with the following wise words: "The bottom line is your feet are teeming with fungal diversity, so wear your flip-flops in locker rooms if you don’t want to mix your feet fungi with someone else’s fungi."
Voice 1: Remember her advice the next time you go to the gym or the swimming pool. There are fungi on the floor just waiting to join the thousands of friends already happily colonising the nooks, crannies and smooth surfaces of your feet.