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Tinea Capitis Workup

  • Author: Marc Zachary Handler, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
 
Updated: May 13, 2016
 

Laboratory Studies

Culture

Laboratory diagnosis of tinea capitis depends on examination and culture of skin rubbings, skin scrapings, or hair pluckings (epilated hair) from lesions.

Before specimen collection, any ointment or other local applications present should be removed with alcohol.

Infected hairs appearing as broken stubs are best for examination. They can be removed with forceps without undue trauma or collected by gentle rubbing with a moist gauze pad; broken, infected hairs adhere to the gauze. A toothbrush may be used in a similar fashion.[17] Alternatively, affected areas can be scraped with the end of a glass slide or with a blunt scalpel to harvest affected hairs, broken-off hair stubs, and scalp scale. This is preferable to plucking, which may remove uninvolved hairs. Scrapings may be transported in a folded square of paper. Skin specimens may be scraped directly onto special black cards, which make it easier to see how much material has been collected and provide ideal conditions for transportation to the laboratory; however, affected hairs are easier to see on white paper than on black paper.

Definitive diagnosis depends on an adequate amount of clinical material submitted for examination by direct microscopy and culture. The turn-around time for culture may take several weeks.

Selected hair samples are cultured or allowed to soften in 10-20% potassium hydroxide (KOH) before examination under the microscope. Examination of KOH preparations (KOH mount) usually determines the proper diagnosis if a tinea infection exists.

Conventional sampling of a kerion can be difficult. Negative results are not uncommon in these cases. The diagnosis and decision to treat lesions of kerion may need to be made clinically. A moistened standard bacteriological swab taken from the pustular areas and inoculated onto the culture plate may yield a positive result.[18]

Microscopic examination of the infected hairs may provide immediate confirmation of the diagnosis of ringworm and establishes whether the fungus is small-spore or large-spore ectothrix or endothrix.

Culture provides precise identification of the species for epidemiologic purposes.[19] Primary isolation is carried out at room temperature, usually on Sabouraud agar containing antibiotics (penicillin/streptomycin or chloramphenicol) and cycloheximide (Acti-Dione), which is an antifungal agent that suppresses the growth of environmental contaminant fungi. In cases of tender kerion, the agar plate can be inoculated directly by pressing it gently against the lesion. Most dermatophytes can be identified within 2 weeks, although T verrucosum grows best at 37°C and may have formed only into small and granular colonies at this stage. Identification depends on gross colony and microscopic morphology. Specimens should be inoculated on to primary isolation media, such as Sabouraud dextrose, and incubated at 26-28°C for 4 weeks. The growth of any dermatophyte is significant.

In some cases, other tests involving nutritional requirements and hair penetration in vitro are necessary to confirm the identification.

Wood lamp examination

In 1925, Margarot and Deveze observed that infected hairs and some fungus cultures fluoresce in ultraviolet light. The black light commonly is termed Wood lamp. Light is filtered through a Wood nickel oxide glass (barium silicate with nickel oxide), which allows only the long ultraviolet rays to pass (peak at 365 nm). Wood lamp examination is useful for certain ectothrix infections (eg, those caused by M canis,M audouinii,Microsporum rivalieri). In cases with endothrix infection, however, negative Wood lamp examination findings are of no practical value for screening or monitoring infections.

Hairs infected by M canis, M audouinii, M rivalieri, and M ferrugineum fluoresce a bright green to yellow-green color (see the image below).

Wood lamp examination of a gray-patch area on the Wood lamp examination of a gray-patch area on the scalp. In Microsporum canis infection, scalp hairs emit a diagnostic brilliant green fluorescence. Trichophyton tonsurans does not fluoresce with Wood lamp.

Hairs infected by T schoenleinii may show a dull green or blue-white color, and hyphae regress leaving spaces within the hair shaft. T verrucosum exhibits a green fluorescence in cow hairs, but infected human hairs do not fluoresce. The fluorescent substance appears to be produced by the fungus only in actively growing infected hairs. Infected hairs remain fluorescent for many years after the arthroconidia have died.

When a diagnosis of ringworm is under consideration, the scalp is examined under a Wood lamp. If fluorescent infected hairs are present, hairs are removed for light microscopic examination and culture. Infections caused by Microsporum species fluoresce a typical green color.

Unfortunately, most tinea capitis infections in North America are caused by T tonsurans and do not demonstrate fluorescence.[20]

In favus, infected hairs appear yellow (see the image below).

Wood lamp examination of a gray-patch area on the Wood lamp examination of a gray-patch area on the scalp. In Microsporum canis infection, scalp hairs emit a diagnostic brilliant green fluorescence. Trichophyton tonsurans does not fluoresce with Wood lamp.

Serology

Serology  is not required for a diagnosis of dermatophytosis.

Videodermatoscopy

A small study in patients with tinea capitis from M canis found that comma hairs were a prominent and distinctive feature on videodermatoscopy; comma hairs were not seen in patients with alopecia areata.[21]

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Histologic Findings

Skin biopsy with particular emphasis on examination of infected hairs with special histochemical stains aids in the identification of the causative fungus, especially in cases of fungal folliculitis (Majocchi granuloma) and onychomycosis. Bullous tinea demonstrates subepidermal edema and reticular degeneration of the epidermis. Tinea corporis demonstrates subacute and chronic dermatitis with or without follicular inflammation and destruction. Suppurative folliculitis may be present. In the mildest form, hyperkeratosis, parakeratosis, spongiosis, slight vasodilatation, and a perivascular inflammatory infiltrate in the upper dermis are present. Fungal hyphae can be demonstrated using routine hematoxylin and eosin stain, and identification can be facilitated by using special stains. Periodic acid-Schiff stain with diastase digestion or counterstained with green dye facilitates identification of fungal elements. See the image below.

Photomicrograph depicting an endoectothrix invasio Photomicrograph depicting an endoectothrix invasion of a hair shaft by Microsporum audouinii. Intrapilary hyphae and spores around the hair shaft are seen (hematoxylin and eosin stain with Periodic acid-Schiff counterstain, magnification X 250).

Fungi are seen sparsely in the stratum corneum (see the first image below). Hyphae extend down the hair follicle, growing on the surface of the hair shaft. Hyphae then invade the hair, penetrate the outermost layer of hair (ie, cuticle), and proliferate downward in the subcuticular portion of the cortex, gradually penetrating deep into the hair cortex. Pronounced inflammatory tissue reaction with follicular pustule formation surrounding hair follicles is seen in patients with the clinical form of infection termed kerion celsi (see the second image below).

Fungal hyphae and yeast cells of Trichophyton rubr Fungal hyphae and yeast cells of Trichophyton rubrum seen on the stratum corneum of tinea capitis. Periodic acid-Schiff stain, magnification 250X.
Pronounced inflammatory tissue reaction with folli Pronounced inflammatory tissue reaction with follicular pustule formation surrounding a hair follicle seen in a patient with clinical form of infection, termed kerion celsi. No fungal hyphae or spores were identified in the lesion in either tissue sections or culture. Fluorescein-labeled Trichophyton mentagrophytes antiserum cross-reacted with antigens of dermatophyte in the infected hairs within the pustule (hematoxylin and eosin stain, magnification X 75).

In endothrix infection, spherical–to–box-like spores are found within the hair shaft. This type of infection is caused by T tonsurans or T violaceum.

In ectothrix infection, organisms form a sheath around the hair shaft. In contrast to endothrix infection, destruction of the cuticle by hyphae and spores occurs.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Marc Zachary Handler, MD Chief Resident, Department of Dermatology, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

Marc Zachary Handler, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, Dermatological Society of New Jersey, New York Academy of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH Professor and Head of Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Visiting Professor, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, New York Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Matthew P Stephany University of Nebraska College of Medicine

Matthew P Stephany is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Michael J Wells, MD, FAAD Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Paul L Foster School of Medicine

Michael J Wells, MD, FAAD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, Texas Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Paul Krusinski, MD Director of Dermatology, Fletcher Allen Health Care; Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Vermont College of Medicine

Paul Krusinski, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Dirk M Elston, MD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Dirk M Elston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Grace F Kao, MD Clinical Professor of Dermatopathology, Department of Dermatology, University of Maryland School of Medicine and George Washington University Medical School; Director, Dermatopathology Section, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Veterans Affairs Maryland Healthcare System, Baltimore, Maryland

Grace F Kao, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Society of Dermatopathology, International Society of Dermatopathology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Franklin Flowers, MD Department of Dermatology, Professor Emeritus Affiliate Associate Professor of Pathology, University of Florida College of Medicine

Franklin Flowers, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Mohs Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Gray-patch ringworm (microsporosis) is an ectothrix infection or prepubertal tinea capitis seen here in an African American male child. Gray patch refers to the scaling with lack of inflammation, as noted in this patient. Hairs in the involved areas assume a characteristic dull, grayish, discolored appearance. Infected hairs are broken and shorter. Papular lesions around hair shafts spread and form typical patches of ring forms, as shown. Culture from the lesional hair grew Microsporum canis.
Typical lesions of kerion celsi on the vertex scalp of a young Chinese boy. Note numerous bright yellow purulent areas on skin surface, surrounded by adjacent edematous, erythematous, alopecic areas. Culture from the lesion grew Trichophyton mentagrophytes. Courtesy of Skin Diseases in Chinese by Yau-Chin Lu, MD. Permission granted by Medicine Today Publishing Co, Taipei, Taiwan, 1981.
Discrete patches of hair loss or alopecia caused by Trichophyton violaceum infection of the vertex scalp of a young Taiwanese boy. Courtesy of Skin Diseases in Chinese by Yau-Chin Lu, MD. Permission granted by Medicine Today Publishing Co, Taipei, Taiwan, 1981.
Photomicrograph depicting an endoectothrix invasion of a hair shaft by Microsporum audouinii. Intrapilary hyphae and spores around the hair shaft are seen (hematoxylin and eosin stain with Periodic acid-Schiff counterstain, magnification X 250).
Fungal hyphae and yeast cells of Trichophyton rubrum seen on the stratum corneum of tinea capitis. Periodic acid-Schiff stain, magnification 250X.
Pronounced inflammatory tissue reaction with follicular pustule formation surrounding a hair follicle seen in a patient with clinical form of infection, termed kerion celsi. No fungal hyphae or spores were identified in the lesion in either tissue sections or culture. Fluorescein-labeled Trichophyton mentagrophytes antiserum cross-reacted with antigens of dermatophyte in the infected hairs within the pustule (hematoxylin and eosin stain, magnification X 75).
Wood lamp examination of a gray-patch area on the scalp. In Microsporum canis infection, scalp hairs emit a diagnostic brilliant green fluorescence. Trichophyton tonsurans does not fluoresce with Wood lamp.
Tinea capitis, presenting as alopecia with scale, in an African American child.
 
 
 
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