Impetigo

What is impetigo?

Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection that primarily affects infants and children. It is caused by Staphylococcus (staph) or Streptococcus (strep) bacteria. It usually occurs when the bacteria enters the skin through a cut or sore.

How is impetigo spread?

Impetigo is very contagious and is normally spread through direct contact with an infected person. It can also be spread by touching or scratching an infected area and then touching another area of the body or another person. The bacteria can even spread by sharing sheets, pillows, toys, clothing, etc. Lesions will usually develop between 1 and 3 days after the bacteria is spread.

Who is at risk for impetigo?

  • Children aged 2 to 6
  • People with cuts, wounds, scratches, etc.
  • People who play sports with person-to-person contact
  • People with long-term skin conditions such as eczema
  • People who live in warm, humid conditions

What are the symptoms of impetigo?

  • Red sores around the mouth and nose
  • Sores that burst and drain
  • Sores that crust with a brownish-yellow color
  • Bullous impetigo may form larger blisters on the body

What is ecthyma?

Ecthyma is a more serious form of impetigo that causes deeper sores in the skin. The sores are more painful, and contain more fluid or pus. They can form into ulcers in the skin.

What are complications with impetigo?

Impetigo usually is not dangerous, and the sores usually heal with minimal to no scarring. In more serious cases, complications may include:

  • Cellulitis: Cellulitis is a serious skin condition that affects the tissue under the skin and can spread to the lymph nodes or blood stream. If left untreated, it can be life threatening.
  • Kidney Problems: Some bacterial infections associated with impetigo can cause kidney damage.
  • Scarring: Ulcers from ecthyma can cause scarring.

How is impetigo diagnosed?

Impetigo is usually diagnosed by the characteristic sores. Lab tests are normally not required. However, some forms of bacteria that cause impetigo are resistant to antibiotics. If the sores are not cleared after antibiotic treatment, a lab test may be necessary to see what kind of antibiotics will be required to treat the impetigo.

How is impetigo treated?

Impetigo is treated through antibiotic ointments applied directly to the skin.  The skin should first be washed with warm water so the antibiotic can absorb into the skin. If there are multiple sores, a doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic. Oral antibiotics should be taken even if the skin sores disappear in order to prevent them from recurring.

How can I prevent getting and spreading impetigo?

  • Wash hands thoroughly and regularly
  • Bathe regularly
  • Wash/disinfect clothing, linens, toys, surfaces, etc.
  • Clean and cover injuries and wounds
  • Do not share personal hygiene items with an infected person
  • Do not share clothing, linens, toys, etc. with an infected person
  • Avoid contact with an infected person
  • Do not send an infected person to work or school/daycare

For more information on impetigo, visit http://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/about/faqs.html.