Impetigo is a skin infection that is more commonly seen in infants and young children, although it can occur at any age. Impetigo usually appears as red sores or spots around the nose, mouth, hands and feet. The sores can be mildly itchy or painful and in some cases look like bubbles or blisters (this is known as bullous impetigo). When the sores burst, they become crusty with a dark yellowish-brown color.
What causes Impetigo?
Impetigo is most often caused by Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus). The bacteria can spread by direct contact with the sores of infected persons, or items they have touched like clothing, towels and toys. Because it can be itchy, kids can spread the infection when they scratch it and then touch other parts of their body. This skin infection is very contagious so it spreads easily from one person to another. Importantly, there are some circumstances that increase the risk of impetigo including:
- Crowded conditions: Impetigo spreads easily in schools and child care settings.
- Warm, humid weather: Impetigo is more common in summer.
- Certain contact sports: Sports that involve skin-to-skin contact like as football or wrestling increase the risk of impetigo.
- Broken/injured skin: The bacteria can often enter the skin through a small skin injury, insect bite or rash, like eczema.
Health care providers can usually recognize impetigo sores by their characteristic appearance. Treatment is generally recommended to help prevent the spread of impetigo to others. Most of the time, the treatment is an antibiotic ointment or cream applied directly to the sores. In most situations, it is a good idea to clean the skin with warm compresses or by soaking affected areas in warm water, before the treatment is applied. This helps to remove the scabs and crust so that the antibiotic can penetrate the skin more effectively.
In situations where there are more than just a few impetigo sores, or in young infants, antibiotics be taken by mouth are required. Note that a child is usually no longer contagious after 24 hours of antibiotic treatment. In the meantime, it is important to keep children with impetigo home from school or day care until they no longer contagious.
Children should wash their hands and faces well and take baths or showers regularly. Also, be careful if there is a skin injuries like cuts or bug bites by ensuring these areas are kept clean and covered.
If a child has impetigo:
- Keep their fingernails short and their impetigo sores covered.
- Make sure not to share clothing, sheets, razors, soaps, and towels.
- Isolate items that came into contact with a person who has impetigo such as linens, clothing and towels and wash them in hot water.