Impetigo (im-puh-TIE-go) is a common and highly contagious skin infection that mainly affects infants and young children. It usually appears as reddish sores on the face, especially around the nose and mouth and on the hands and feet. Over about a week, the sores burst and develop honey-colored crusts.
Treatment with antibiotics can limit the spread of impetigo to others. Keep children home from school or day care until they're no longer contagious — usually 24 hours after beginning antibiotic treatment.
The main symptom of impetigo is reddish sores, often around the nose and mouth. The sores quickly rupture, ooze for a few days and then form a honey-colored crust. Sores can spread to other areas of the body through touch, clothing and towels. Itching and soreness are generally mild.
A less common form of the condition called bullous impetigo causes larger blisters on the trunk of infants and young children. Ecthyma is a serious form of impetigo that causes painful fluid- or pus-filled sores.
If you suspect that you or your child has impetigo, consult your family doctor, your child's pediatrician or a dermatologist.
Impetigo is caused by bacteria, usually staphylococci organisms.
You might be exposed to the bacteria that cause impetigo when you come into contact with the sores of someone who's infected or with items they've touched — such as clothing, bed linen, towels and even toys.
Factors that increase the risk of impetigo include:
Impetigo typically isn't dangerous. And the sores in mild forms of the infection generally heal without scarring.
Rarely, complications of impetigo include:
Keeping skin clean is the best way to keep it healthy. It's important to wash cuts, scrapes, insect bites and other wounds right away.
To help prevent impetigo from spreading to others:
To diagnose impetigo, your doctor might look for sores on your face or body. Lab tests generally aren't needed.
If the sores don't clear, even with antibiotic treatment, your doctor might take a sample of the liquid produced by a sore and test it to see what types of antibiotics would work best on it. Some types of the bacteria that cause impetigo have become resistant to certain antibiotics.
Impetigo is treated with prescription mupirocin antibiotic ointment or cream applied directly to the sores two to three times a day for five to 10 days.
Before applying the medicine, soak the area in warm water or apply a wet cloth compress for a few minutes. Then pat dry and gently remove any scabs so the antibiotic can get into the skin. Place a nonstick bandage over the area to help prevent the sores from spreading.
For ecthyma or if more than just a few impetigo sores are present, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics taken by mouth. Be sure to finish the entire course of medication even if the sores are healed.
For minor infections that haven't spread to other areas, you could try treating the sores with an over-the-counter antibiotic cream or ointment. Placing a nonstick bandage over the area can help prevent the sores from spreading. Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels or athletic equipment, while contagious.
When you call your family doctor or child's pediatrician to make an appointment, ask if you need to do anything to prevent infecting others in the waiting room.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of the following in preparation for your appointment:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
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