Athlete's foot historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Sanjana Nethagani, M.B.B.S.[2]

Historical Significance

  • The Oxford English Dictionary documents written usage of the term in 1928, which seems to undercut the claim by W. F. Young, Inc. that the term "athlete's foot" was originated, rather than simply popularized, as part of an advertising campaign for Absorbine Jr. during the 1930s.[1]
  • Athlete's foot was first reported in 1908 by Sabouraud and Arthur Whitfield.
  • Tinea pedis became more popular in the US and United Kingdom because of the popularisation of occlusive footwear and the habit of wearing socks which retained moisture around the feet.[2]

The World Wars and their significance

  • Tinea affecting other areas than scalp, was first seen in soldiers fighting in the trenches during WW1.
  • Prior to this, tinea affecting the feet was very rare.
  • Tinea pedis interestingly affected members of the British Army who bathed more often and maintained general personal hygiene. Softening of the skin due to repeated washing and wearing socks/stockings under many layers of clothes provided a cozy environment for tinea to flourish. [3]
  • A study published about the incidence of tinea pedis among the American troops during WW1 showed that 13% of all ranks in the US Navy were affected, and the numbers were even higher among those men who were recruited from college. [4]
  • This was seen as a major issue because even though it is not a deadly condition, the affected could not change clothes in the middle of combat or difficult operations.
  • The number of people infected only increased during WW2, with it being rampant among the troops stationed in the tropics.
  • Paul de Kruif wrote an article in the Readers Digest (De Kruif, P. , ‘A working cure for athlete’s foot’, Reader’s Digest, 1942, 40: 46–48.) advocating for the use of a mixture of camphor and phenol to treat athlete's foot. But in some cases this combination lead to death due to exposure.
  • Tinea infections were so high in the British troops stationed in South-East Asian countries that they set up a research unit. It was reported that 79.5% of the soldiers in SE Asia had tinea pedis. [5]

Discovery of antifungals

  • The first therapy for tinea pedis was developed by H. Raistrick by isolating it from Penicillium gresiofulvum.[6]
  • Research found that griseofulvin inhibited fungal cell wall formation and cell division. [7]
  • Ketoconazole was discovered by a Belgian company in 1977[8]. Ketoconazole was approved for clinical use in 1982.


  1. The of W. F. Young, Inc. and Absorbine at the Absorbine website.
  2. Adams C, Athanasoula E, Lee W, Mahmudova N, Vlahovic TC (2015). "Environmental and Genetic Factors on the Development of Onychomycosis". J Fungi (Basel). 1 (2): 211–216. doi:10.3390/jof1020211. PMC 5753111. PMID 29376909.
  3. MITCHELL JH (1951). "Ringworm of hands and feet". J Am Med Assoc. 146 (6): 541–6. doi:10.1001/jama.1951.03670060017004. PMID 14832014.
  4. Souter JC (1937). "A Clinical Note on Fungus Infection of the Skin of the Feet (Abbreviated): (United Services Section)". Proc R Soc Med. 30 (9): 1107–16. PMC 2076333. PMID 19991208.
  5. SANDERSON PH, SLOPER JC (1953). "Skin disease in the British army in S. E. Asia. I. Influence of the environment on skin disease". Br J Dermatol. 65 (7–8): 252–64. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.1953.tb13747.x. PMID 13059235.
  6. Oxford AE, Raistrick H, Simonart P (1939). "Studies in the biochemistry of micro-organisms: Griseofulvin, C(17)H(17)O(6)Cl, a metabolic product of Penicillium griseo-fulvum Dierckx". Biochem J. 33 (2): 240–8. doi:10.1042/bj0330240. PMC 1264363. PMID 16746904.
  7. FRAIN-BELL W, STEVENSON CJ (1960). "Report on a clinical trial with griseofulvin". Trans St Johns Hosp Dermatol Soc. 45: 47–53. PMID 13701168.
  8. Montgomery BJ (1980). "Belgian oral antifungal agent looks promising". JAMA. 243 (1): 12. PMID 7350324.

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