What and Why?
Fungi are quite different in their behaviour from bacteria, viruses and other one-cell organisms, having some of the features of animals and some of vegetables. Their seeds have a special ‘spore’structure with a durable outer skin, which makes them very resistant to destruction; millions of spores are to be found in ordinary household dust, especially if parts of your house are damp or poorly ventilated. Out of doors they live on the skins of practically all fruit varieties and play an important part in the fermentation of wines.
The feature of fungi which makes them troublesome for people is their ability to transform between two versions. One is a cellular or yeasty form such as brewers culture in beer and bakers use to raise bread. The other is a dense web of fine interconnecting rootlet hairs called a ‘mycelium"; this is the form that grows spores and looks stranger than fiction under a high-power lens. The fur-like moulds that grow on fruit, bread and cheese are typical examples. Mycelia of various fungus species can grow in your skin as a spreading eczematous ring in ringworm, or producing a rash of deathly-coloured soggy scales and crusts in warm damp places such as your groin or armpit, or between your toes: athlete’s foot is probably the commonest infection in the developed world. It can permeate your finger tips and nails, cracking and deforming them. Thrush is one particular species that can produce a similar mycelium inside your body. It is the commonest genital infection; in some women it produces a stubbornly recurrent vaginal discharge which can be blood-stained when the mycelium infects your cervix. Internally thrush mycelium has no respect for the natural barriers of your body and can penetrate almost anywhere. It can play havoc with and run down your immunity by short-circuiting the customs-house function built into your intestine, smuggling partly digested material not yet stamped with your character into places you would never normally allow.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise your health
1. Keep your skin well aired and cool. Do not over-dress, and keep to natural fabrics — cotton and wool — for the clothing next to your skin. Stockings usually better than tights.
2. Choose shoes with leather uppers at least, as these will ventilate your feet; they also return good value for money if you look after them by packing them with dry newspaper immediately you take them off, to absorb their moisture. Wear sandals without socks or go bare-foot at every opportunity.
3. Sun bathing is sometimes hazardous but air-bathing never is. Simply wear the minimum of billowing, loose-fitting clothing and let the air get to your body. This restores it to the climate which most naturally resists significant fungus infection.
4. Before you dress each morning, rub yourself all over lightly but briskly with a fine brush or dry loofa. If you can see separate ‘scratch’marks of redness afterwards, the brush is too hard or you have been heavy-handed.
- If you do this daily as a routine, the surface of your skin will toughen and harden slightly, but will keep smooth and sleek because surplus dead scales will not accumulate. Not only is this type of skin more difficult for fungi to colonize — insects will trouble you a lot less, too!
6. Regular use of dusting powder containing zinc undecenoate in the gaps between the toes, before putting on footwear, reliably reduces athlete’s foot. Fungus is very vulnerable to destruction by acid, which this powder produces.