What is impetigo?
is a highly contagious skin condition. It usually occurs on the face, neck, and
hands of young children and infants. Children who wear diapers also tend to get
it around the diaper area. Impetigo occurs more rarely in adults, usually
following another skin condition or an infection.
Impetigo is caused by two bacteria — streptococcus pyogenes and
staphylococcus aureus. Recommended treatment often depends on which bacteria
are causing your impetigo. Outlook for this condition is good and it usually
goes away within two to three weeks.
Pictures of impetigo
Types of impetigo
There are several different types of impetigo. The symptoms and
causes are what set each type apart from the others.
This may also be called nonbullous impetigo, and is the most
common type of impetigo in children. It is very contagious. This type of
impetigo usually begins with red sores around the nose and mouth.
These blisters burst, leaving a weeping, red rash that becomes
crusted. This rash may be itchy but is not painful. Swollen lymph nodes (bean
shaped glands that help your body fight infection) may also occur with impetigo
This form of impetigo is most common in children under age two.
Blisters usually appear first on the torso, arms, and legs. These blisters may
initially appear clear and then turn cloudy.
Blisters caused by bullous impetigo tend to last longer than
blisters caused by other types of impetigo. The areas around the blisters may
be red and itchy.
This is the most serious form of impetigo because it affects the
second layer of the skin, rather than just the top layer. Blisters tend to be
painful and may turn into ulcers, or aggravated, open sores. Swollen lymph
nodes and scars may also occur.
Symptoms of impetigo
Impetigo symptoms can be uncomfortable and embarrassing,
particularly when they are present on the face. Though the symptoms vary
slightly from type to type of impetigo, they are similar and can include:
- red sores that pop easily and leave a yellow
- fluid-filled blisters
- itchy rash
- skin lesions
- swollen lymph nodes
Causes of impetigo
Impetigo occurs when certain types of bacteria infect the skin.
This can occur in a few different ways, such as:
- skin-to-skin contact with an individual who has
- touching things an individual with impetigo has
had contact with, such as towels, bedding, and toys
- injury to the skin
- insect bites
- animal bites
Who gets impetigo?
Certain individuals are more likely than others to develop
impetigo. Risk factors include:
- being two to six years of age
- regularly attending a daycare or school
- having skin irritated by other conditions
- poor hygiene
- warm weather
- being in a crowded environment where bacteria
can spread easily
- having dermatitis (itchy, inflammation of the
skin, sometimes caused by allergic reactions)
- participating in activities that involve
- having diabetes
- having a compromised immune system
Diagnosis of impetigo
Your doctor will examine your sores and ask about any recent
injuries to the skin. Most cases of impetigo can be diagnosed through physical
examination. However, your doctor may wish to take a culture to determine the
type of bacteria that is causing your impetigo.
Taking a culture involves brushing a swab over an affected area.
This swab will then be sent to a lab to be tested for bacteria. The information
from this test can help your doctor decide whether you need antibiotics, as
well as what type of antibiotics to prescribe.
Treatment for impetigo depends on the severity of the symptoms as
well as the type of bacteria causing the impetigo. If you have a mild case of
impetigo, your doctor may recommend simple hygiene methods to help the skin
heal and to prevent impetigo from spreading.
The affected area should be cleaned several times per day, using
either water or an antibacterial wash. It is important not to scrub the area
while washing it, as this can further irritate the skin. After washing, pat the
skin dry and apply an antibacterial or over-the-counter antibiotic ointment
according to your doctor’s recommendation.
If there are many scabs on the skin, you can soak this area to
help remove some of the scabbing and promote healing. Affected areas can be
soaked in soapy water or a 1:32 solution of vinegar and water (one ounce of
vinegar for every 32 ounces of water.
Try to avoid picking at or touching the areas affected by
impetigo. A non-stick dressing can be applied to reduce the spread of impetigo.
Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching areas of your skin affected by
If at-home treatment does not work or your impetigo is severe,
your doctor may prescribe medication. Your doctor may prescribe a topical
antibiotic cream to apply directly to your skin. It is important to clean the
skin before applying the antibiotic cream, so it can penetrate the sores.
Your doctor may also prescribe oral antibiotics. These come in
liquid form for children and pill form for adults. Whether you are prescribed
topical or oral antibiotics, it is important to finish your prescription to
prevent the infection from returning. Stopping an antibiotic regimen just
because symptoms have improved can lead to a recurrence of the infection and
Prevention of impetigo
Good hygiene can help you prevent impetigo. These methods
- washing hands regularly
- bathing or showering regularly
- cleaning and covering any injuries to the skin
If you have impetigo, there are several things you should due to
prevent it from spreading to other areas of the body, as well as to other
individuals. These include:
- using antibacterial soap to wash hands
- using a clean towel or fresh paper towel to dry
the body or hands
- washing linens and clothes in hot water
- cleaning surface areas in the home with
- keeping fingernails short
- avoiding schools and childcare centers while
infection is contagious
- not sharing personal hygiene items