FAQ – Q15

Q15: What about catching diseases?

As a practical matter, almost no disease is going to penetrate the protective skin of our feet or get past our immune systems and infect the body. Even if we walked in areas that are contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, exposure and infection are two entirely different things; and unless we then put our feet into our mouths or touched food with our feet that we’re about to eat, the chances of our actually getting infected or sick from mere foot skin contact with microbes are extremely slim.

As to fungus infections, such as athlete’s foot, fungi cannot grow or even live in dry, fresh air and sunlight. There must be a warm, moist, dark place, such as the inside of shoes, for them to thrive. Therefore, people who go barefoot all the time never get fungus infections. Note, we said all the time.

The American Academy of Dermatology, in an article on athlete’s foot in its publication Dermatology Insights (vol. 3, no. 1, Spring 2002), has stated:

Athlete’s foot does not occur among people who traditionally go barefoot. It’s moisture, sweating and lack of proper ventilation of the feet that present the perfect setting for the fungus of athlete’s foot to grow.

Even for someone who is only able to go barefoot part of the time – due to employment requirements or other reasons – that time out of shoes will be tremendously beneficial in helping to prevent athlete’s foot and other fungal infections, and the more time actually barefoot, the better.

Another parasite commonly associated with bare feet is hookworm. Most people know little or nothing about hookworm, except they think it’s a big danger to bare feet. Not so. The chances of getting that while barefoot are practically nil. If we live in the United States or any other developed country that has modern sewage systems, our chances of getting a hookworm infection from walking barefoot are practically zero.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), hookworm infection can be prevented by:

…not walk[ing] barefoot in areas where hookworm is common and where there may be fecal contamination of the soil…Fecal contamination occurs when people defecate outdoors or use human feces as fertilizer.

Not only that, even if we encountered some area that had been used by some person or persons as their outdoor toilet, unless they themselves had been infected with hookworms, and unless they had left the infected feces there less than 3 or 4 weeks ago, there is no way we could get infected.

Catching hookworm infection from animals or animal feces is even less of a concern for barefooters, which, in effect, is no concern at all. Though some animals can and do in fact have hookworm infections, animal hookworms are not the same type of hookworms that can infect humans. There is, however, one type of hookworm that may infect dogs or cats, whose larvae, in very rare instances, may be able to penetrate human skin (not necessarily the feet) and cause a minor skin rash, known as cutaneous larva migrans – not the gastrointestinal infection that occurs with human hookworm infection. As to humans actually getting infected with this type of animal hookworm, this is what the CDC has to say:

When people walk or sit on beach sand or soil where infected dogs or cats have defecated, the dog or cat hookworm larva can penetrate the skin of the foot or body and migrate in the top layers of the skin. This migration causes severe itchiness and raised red lines can form as part of the reaction to the larva in the skin. The larva will die in the skin after several weeks without developing any further, and the itchiness and red lines will go away…

Walking barefoot in the feces of other animals, such as farm animals – chickens, cows, horses, etc. – has never been found to cause any infections, parasites, or any other medical problems in humans.