Impetigo is a relatively common bacterial skin infection. The condition can affect adults, but 70 percent of cases occur in children. In the United States, impetigo is the most common childhood skin infection, so it's important to act quickly if your child becomes infected. Learn more about the causes and symptoms of impetigo, and find out what you need to do to get rid of this childhood infection.
Types of infection
Two types of bacteria can cause impetigo—staphylococcus aureus and (more rarely) streptococcus pyogenes. These bacteria can both exist harmlessly on human skin, but your child may get an infection if he or she has an open cut or wound. Insect bites will also commonly lead to impetigo, but some children become infected without any visible skin damage. Primary impetigo occurs where there is a cut or wound. Secondary impetigo can occur because another condition (like eczema) has weakened the skin barrier.
There are two types of impetigo:
- Non-bullous impetigo (or impetigo contagiosa)
- Bullous impetigo
Non-bullous impetigo accounts for around 70 percent of all infections. Impetigo is very contagious, and commonly occurs where people live, work or play in confined environments.
What to look for
The symptoms of impetigo are generally visible, and easy to see. It's important to spot the condition as soon as possible, so you can prevent the infection spreading.
- Blisters that you can easily pop, leaving reddish, raw-looking skin
- Itchy blisters, filled with yellow fluid that ooze and crust over
- An itchy rash
- Skin sores on the face, lips and limbs
- Swollen lymph nodes near the infection
Impetigo spreads easily if the fluid from these sores touches another person with an open cut or wound. The ease of transmission is a particular problem with young children, who tend to have less regard for personal hygiene and play closely with their friends.
An impetigo infection will often go away without treatment in around two weeks. That aside, treatment options generally aim to ease discomfort and improve the cosmetic appearance of the lesions. Parents may also want to treat the symptoms of the condition to stop the infection spreading to other members of the family.
In most cases, a doctor or dermatologist will prescribe antibiotics. Doctors will often recommend antibiotic ointment or cream, which you can rub directly into the sores. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's often useful to soak the affected areas in warm water first, to help remove overlying scabs.
In more serious cases, a doctor may recommend oral antibiotic drugs. A course of these drugs should cure the infection completely, and will also help stop the infection coming back.
Complications from impetigo are rare and most children recover without any further problems. In some cases, children can suffer from a condition called cellulitis, where the infection goes deeper into the skin. This can cause inflamed, red skin and fever. Other rare complications include septicemia and scarlet fever.
Helping prevent infection
If your child has impetigo, it is often advisable to cover infected skin with gauze and tape or a loose plastic bandage. This will prevent the infection spreading to other parts of the body, or to other family members. It's also important to trim kids' fingernails to prevent them scratching the infected areas.
You should also make sure that everyone uses their own sheets, soap and towels. If your child has impetigo, it's often useful to temporarily switch to paper towels. You should also launder an infected child's bed linen, towels and clothes separately from the rest of the family's clothes, and wash in hot water. Parents may also need to use an antibacterial cleaner on household surfaces.
Impetigo is a contagious skin condition that is common in children. Most children recover without further problems after a couple of weeks, but it's important that parents take precautions to prevent the infection spreading. Go to sites that specialize in dermatology for more information.