5-minute listening: Itchy feet? Study explores diversity of fungi behind athlete’s foot and other infections

  • Practise your English with our short listening exercises: play the audio linked below; answer the questions; and check the answers at the bottom of the page
  • This week’s podcast talks about the fungi on your feet and explains how to avoid getting fungal infections when you’re at the gym or pool
John Millen |

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Our feet have a lot of fungi, which isn’t a bad thing unless they get out of control. Photo: Shutterstock

Click on the video below for the audio.

Play a Kahoot! game about this podcast as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:


1. What sign of athlete’s foot is mentioned in the podcast?
A. dry skin on the sides of the feet
B. blisters on the toes
C. cracking of the skin on the feet
D. itching between the toes

2. According to the podcast, what can be used to treat athlete’s foot?
A. aromatherapy oil
B. injections
C. powders
D. toothpaste

3. Which body part does the podcast discuss?

Graphic: SCMP

4. Which word can replace “multiply” in the podcast?
A. reproduce
B. enlarge
C. magnify
D. repeat

5. What do the “little invaders” mentioned in the podcast refer to?
A. itchy red circles
B. the fungi that live on our feet
C. certain parts of our toes
D. none of the above

6. Which of the following is caused by fungi?
A. fungal nail infections
B. athlete’s foot
C. ringworm
D. all of the above

7. How can you recognise a fungal nail infection?
A. Your toenail falls off.
B. Your nail changes colour and becomes thick.
C. Your nail feels itchy.
D. Your toenail has red blotches.

8. Which of the following refers to a person’s heel?

Graphic: SCMP

9. On average, how many different types of fungus can be found between the toes?
A. 40
B. 60
C. 80
D. 100

10. According to the podcast, which of the following conditions helps fungi grow on the body?
A. moist
B. cold
C. dark
D. dry

11. How is the temperature of our feet different to the rest of our body?
A. Our feet’s temperature is higher than that of our palms, but usually similar to the rest of our body.
B. Our body’s temperature is lower than that of our feet.
C. Our feet’s temperature changes all the time while our body’s temperature usually stays the same.
D. none of the above

12. What do the “handy containers” in the second half of the podcast refer to?
A. different types of fungi
B. shoes and socks
C. our feet
D. lockers

13. According to the podcast, how do fungi affect people who do not wear shoes?
A. Their feet were naturally immune to all types of fungi.
B. They had a more severe reaction to the fungus that causes ringworm.
C. They were less likely to suffer from athlete’s foot.
D. information not given

14. Which of the following statements best describes the study’s focus?
A. to examine the diversity of fungi on the human body
B. to discover why our feet breed so much fungi
C. to understand how socks affect fungal infections
D. to show how dirty gyms can be

15. What does Dr Julie Segre advise?
A. to stop going to gyms and swimming pools
B. to wear shoes when you are at home
C. to change your socks twice a day
D. to put on footwear when you are in public places

Our feet often stay cooped up in socks and shoes all day. Graphic: Shutterstock


1. D
2. C
3. B
4. A
5. B
6. D
7. B
8. C
9. A
10. A
11. C
12. B
13. D
14. A
15. D


Voice 1: If you’ve ever suffered from athlete’s foot and the terrible itching it causes between your toes, you’ll know the discomfort the foot fungus can cause. It can drive you mad. Athlete’s foot appears from nowhere, and it is very difficult to get rid of once it has taken hold. Creams and powders sometimes do the trick, but the bacteria that cause the fungus are very unwilling to leave your toes once they have found a nice, warm place to live.

Voice 2: A 2013 study by scientists in America found that the foot was the favourite breeding ground on the human body for fungal communities. Samples of fungi were taken from every area of the body. The foot was discovered to have more than 200 different types of fungi. Athlete’s foot is just one of the infections these little invaders can cause.

Voice 1: Fungi live all over the human foot, but their favourite spots are on the heel, under the toenails and between the toes. Most of the fungi cause no problems and live quite happily on your skin. But if they get too comfortable and multiply, they will cause infections like athlete’s foot.

Voice 2: Contrary to what the name suggests, you don’t have to play sports to get athlete’s foot – the most common fungal infection of them all. Fungal nail infections, where the toenail becomes thick and discoloured, is another favourite, as is ringworm, a horrible sounding infection that brings out itchy red circles all over the foot.

Voice 1: The heel is also a very popular place for fungi to stay. Scientists have identified over 80 different fungi that colonise a typical human heel. A toenail can be home to 60 types of fungi, and on average, 40 types reside between the toes where it is wet and warm.

Voice 2: It is not clear why our feet attract so many different fungi. But while skin temperatures on the rest of our bodies stay quite stable, the temperature of our feet goes up and down all the time. When they are not touching our surroundings, they are stuffed inside shoes and socks. These handy containers provide wonderful breeding conditions for fungi.

Voice 1: Studies have yet to be carried out in communities where people keep their feet free of footwear. It would be interesting to count the different fungi on feet that are never contained by socks and shoes.

Voice 2: The lead researcher, Dr Julie Segre, summed up the findings with the following wise words: “The bottom line is your feet are teeming with fungi diversity. So wear your flip flops in locker rooms if you don’t want to mix your ... fungi with someone else’s fungi.”

Voice 1: Remember that advice the next time you go to the gym or the swimming pool. There are fungi on the floor just waiting to join the thousands of friends already happily colonising the nooks and crannies of your feet.

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