Impetigo, one of the most common skin infections among kids, usually produces blisters or sores on the face, neck, hands, and diaper area.
This contagious superficial skin infection is generally caused by one of two bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes (also called group A streptococcus, which also causes strep throat). Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is also becoming an important cause of impetigo.
Impetigo usually affects preschool and school-age children. A child may be more likely to develop impetigo if the skin has already been irritated by other skin problems, such as eczema, poison ivy, insect bites, and cuts or scrapes.
Routinely washing the face and hands can help prevent impetigo, which often develops when there is a sore or a rash that has been scratched repeatedly (for example, poison ivy can get infected and turn into impetigo).
Doctors can usually diagnose impetigo based on the appearance of the rash. Occasionally, they may need to take a sample of fluid from blisters. Impetigo is typically treated with either an antibiotic ointment or medication taken by mouth.
Impetigo may affect skin anywhere on the body but commonly occurs around the nose and mouth, hands, and forearms, and in young children, the diaper area.
The two types of impetigo are non-bullous (crusted) and bullous (large blisters):
Impetigo is contagious. It can spread to anyone who comes into contact with infected skin or other items (such as clothing, towels, and bed linens) that have been touched by infected skin. And because impetigo may itch, kids can spread the infection by scratching it and then touching other parts of their body.
When it just affects a small area of the skin (and especially if it's the non-bullous form), impetigo usually is treated with antibiotic ointment. But if the infection has spread to other areas of the body or the ointment isn't working, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic pill or liquid to be taken for 7-10 days.
Once antibiotic treatment begins, healing should start within a few days. It's important to make sure that your child takes the medication as prescribed. Otherwise, a deeper and more serious skin infection could develop.
While the infection is healing, gently wash the areas of infected skin with clean gauze and antiseptic soap every day. Soak any areas of crusted skin with warm soapy water to help remove the layers of crust (it is not necessary to completely remove all of it).
To keep your child from spreading impetigo to other parts of the body, the doctor or nurse will probably recommend covering infected areas of skin with gauze and tape or a loose plastic bandage. Keep your child's fingernails short and clean to prevent scratching that could lead to infection.
Keeping skin clean can help prevent impetigo. Kids should wash their hands well and often and take baths or showers regularly. Pay special attention to skin injuries (cuts, scrapes, bug bites, etc.), areas of eczema, and rashes such as poison ivy. Keep these areas clean and covered.
Anyone in your family with impetigo should keep fingernails cut short and the impetigo sores covered with gauze and tape.
Prevent impetigo infection from spreading among family members by making sure everyone uses their own clothing, sheets, razors, soaps, and towels. If necessary, substitute paper towels for cloth ones until the impetigo is gone. Separate the infected person's bed linens, towels, and clothing from those of other family members, and wash these items in hot water. Keep the surfaces of your kitchen and household clean.
Call the doctor if your child has signs of impetigo, especially if he or she has been exposed to a family member or classmate with the infection. If your child is already being treated for impetigo, keep an eye on the sores and call the doctor if the skin doesn't begin to heal after 3 days of treatment or if a fever develops. If the area around the rash becomes red, warm, or tender to the touch, notify the doctor as soon as possible.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|American Academy of Dermatology Provides up-to-date information on the treatment and management of disorders of the skin, hair, and nails.|
|Hand Washing Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.|
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|Impetigo Impetigo is a strange-sounding word that might be new to you. It's an infection of the skin caused by bacteria. Read this article to learn more about it.|
|What Are Germs? Germs are the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease. With a little prevention, you can keep harmful germs out of your family's way.|
|Eczema Eczema can be an itchy nuisance and cause scratching that makes the problem worse. Fortunately, more than half of the kids who have eczema today will be over it by the time they're teenagers.|
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|First Aid: Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac Mild rashes from poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants can be treated at home. But severe and widespread rashes require medical treatment.|
|First Aid: Skin Infections Skin infections are common during childhood. Here's what to do if your child has a skin infection.|
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|Abscess An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms in the body. Find out how to spot a skin abscess and when to call the doctor.|
|MRSA MRSA is a type of bacteria that the usual antibiotics can't tackle anymore. Simple precautions can help protect your kids from becoming infected.|
|Staph Infections When skin is punctured or broken for any reason, staph bacteria can enter the wound and cause an infection. But good hygiene can prevent many staph infections. Learn more.|
|Staph Infections Staph bacteria can live harmlessly on many skin surfaces. But the bacteria can get into wounds and cause an infection. Get the details in this article for teens.|
|Abscess An abscess is a sign of an infection, usually on the skin. Find out what to do if your child develops one.|
|Skin, Hair, and Nails Our skin protects the network of tissues, muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels, and everything else inside our bodies. Hair and nails are actually modified types of skin.|
|Impetigo Impetigo is a skin infection caused by fairly common bacteria. Read this article to learn how to recognize it and what to do about it.|
|Abscess People can get abscesses on the skin, under the skin, in a tooth, or even inside the body. Most abscesses are caused by infection, so it can help to know what to do. Find out in this article for teens.|
|MRSA MRSA is a type of bacteria that the usual antibiotics can't tackle anymore. The good news is that there are some simple ways to protect yourself from being infected. Find out how.|
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