Can Fungal Nail Infection Spread

Toenail fungus is far more common than you may think. In fact, medical experts estimate that onychomycosis affects 1 in 10 people overall. This number increases to 1 and 2 for those within an age demographic over 70. That said, a frequent question becomes “Can a fungal nail infection spread?” In this article, we dive into this question by covering the types of fungal nail infections, risk factors, and fungus prevention. 


Types of fungal nail infections

There are four main types of fungal nail infections that patients suffer from. The different kinds include:


  • Distal or lateral subungual onychomycosis (DSO). This is the most common of the four infection types. The nail fungus spreads from the skin of the toes and invades the underside of the affected nail. Inflammation occurs where the nail meets the nail bed and can be red and painful. This can cause the outer of the nail to have a jagged appearance with white and/or yellow streaks across the nail.
  • White superficial onychomycosis (WSO). WSO is a less common form of fungal nail infection and only affects the surface of the nail. The nail infection starts off as white spots on the nail and becomes powdery, causing the infected nail to crumble. 
  • Proximal subungual onychomycosis (PSO). PSO also starts with white spots in the center of the nail bed at the cuticle. The spots move outward as the nail grows. It is also a more rare fungal infection and typically only affects patients who have immune system problems like HIV and can also result from minor injury to the nail.
  • Candidal onychomycosis. The last of the four infections is caused by yeast (candida) overgrowth. It usually affects the fingernails, not the toenails. The area becomes swollen and inflamed and the infected nail can come off entirely.  This also happens to nails that are already damaged by an injury or infection.


Risk Factors

There are a variety of factors that can put you more at risk to develop a fungal nail infection

  • Being of older age: This is a risk factor because there is reduced blood flow to the nail so growth is slowed and being older means you have been exposed to more fungi throughout the years.
  • Excessive sweating from conditions like Hyperhidrosis 
  • Having contracted athlete’s foot before
  • Walking barefoot in damp public areas like swimming pools, public showers, and gyms: this is because nail fungi prefer warm, moist dark environments. We recommend wearing flip-flops in these situations.
  • Having a minor skin or nail condition like psoriasis
  • Having diabetes, circulation problems, or a weakened immune system


Can Fungal Nail Infections Spread?

So, is a fungal nail infection contagious? The answer to this question depends on how it is spreading. A toenail fungal infection can spread from one nail to another. But typically it is uncommon to get an infection directly from another person suffering from the condition. Again, fungal nail infections usually spread by coming into contact with surfaces that contain the toenail fungus. The areas that toenail fungus may spread to include: 


  • Other toenails 
  • The skin between your toes (known as athlete’s foot) 
  • Groin area (known as jock itch)
  • Scalp



Healthy, regular, hygienic habits are the best and easiest way to prevent any form of fungal nail infection. Some of the best tips to follow are: 


  • Wash hands and feet regularly with soap and warm water
  • Trim your nail straight across and file down the thicker parts of the nail. Disinfect your nail clippers after trimming.
  • Change your socks throughout the day if you are sweating
  • Wear breathable shoes
  • Through away old shoes that you wore during a toenail infection
  • Wear footwear in communal pools and locker rooms
  • Only go to nail salons that use sterilized manicure tools


Overall, fungal nail infections can be very frustrating and uncomfortable to deal with. Luckily, fungal nail infections do not spread directly from another person. However, it can spread and grow to your other nails so be sure to treat the infection immediately! 


If you’re wondering “What medication is used for toenail fungus,” we share the common treatments for fungus in our latest blog article.

This blog is based on research and/or other scientific articles and is written by our experienced Chief Strategy Officer and Pharmacist, Ronak Desai. This blog is fact checked by our educated Pharmacist in Charge, Darshan Patel, who additionally runs our Apotheco Manhattan location.

Here at Apotheco Pharmacy Group, our goal is to provide the most up to date and accurate information on health and dermatology related topics. We do this to ensure our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All blogs undergo an extensive review process before posted.

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