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Impetigo (say "im-puh-TY-go") is a bacterial skin infection. It causes
red sores that can break open, ooze fluid, and develop a yellow-brown crust.
These sores can occur anywhere on the body but most often appear around the
mouth and nose.
See a picture of
Impetigo is one of the most
common skin infections in children. It can occur in adults but is seen far more
often in children. Impetigo is contagious and can be spread to others through
close contact or by sharing towels, sheets, clothing, toys, or other items.
Scratching can also spread the sores to other parts of the body.
caused by one of two kinds of bacteria—strep (streptococcus) or staph
(staphylococcus). Often these bacteria enter the body when the skin has already
been irritated or injured because of other skin problems such as
eczema, poison ivy, insect bites, burns,
or cuts. Children may get impetigo after they have had a cold or allergies that
have made the skin under the nose raw. But impetigo can also develop in
completely healthy skin.
You or your child may have impetigo if you have
Your doctor can usually diagnose impetigo just by looking at your or your
child's skin. Sometimes your doctor will gently remove a small piece of a sore
to send to a lab to identify the bacteria. If you or your child has
other signs of illness, your doctor may order blood or urine tests.
antibiotics. For cases of mild impetigo, a doctor will
prescribe an antibiotic ointment or cream to put on the sores. For cases of
more serious impetigo, a doctor may also prescribe antibiotic pills.
After 3 days of treatment, you or your child should begin to get better.
A child can usually
return to school or daycare after 24 hours of
treatment.1 If you apply the ointment or take the pills exactly as prescribed,
most sores will be completely healed in 1 week.
At home, you
should gently wash the sores with soap and water before you apply the medicine.
If the sores are crusty, soak them in warm water for 15 minutes, scrub the
crusts with a washcloth to remove them, and pat the sores dry. Do not share
washcloths, towels, pillows, sheets, or clothes with others. And be sure to wash
these items in hot water before you use them again.
Try not to
scratch the sores, because scratching can spread the infection to other parts of
the body. You can help prevent scratching by keeping your child's fingernails
short and covering sores with gauze or bandages.
Call your doctor
if an impetigo infection does not improve after 3 or 4 days or if you notice
any signs that the infection is getting worse such as fever, increased pain,
swelling, warmth, redness, or pus.
If you know someone who has
impetigo, try to avoid close contact with that person until his or her
infection has gone away. You should also avoid sharing towels, pillows, sheets,
clothes, toys, or other items with an infected person. If possible, wash all
shared items in hot water before you use them again.
If you or
your child has impetigo, scratching the sores can spread the infection to other
areas of your body and to other people. Keep the sores covered to help you
or your child resist scratching them. Wash your or your child's hands with
soap to help prevent spreading the infection.
If your child has
a cut or insect bite, covering it with antibiotic ointment or cream can help
This American Academy of Pediatrics website has information for parents about childhood issues, from before the child is born to young adulthood. You'll find information on child growth and development, immunizations, safety, health issues, behavior, and much more.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Recommendations for inclusion or exclusion section of Children in out-of-home child care. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 127–131. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Other Works Consulted
Cole C, Gazewood J (2007). Diagnosis and treatment of
impetigo. American Family Physician, 75(6):
Craft N, et al. (2008). Impetigo section of
Superficial staphylococcal pyodermas. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol.
2, pp. 1695–1698. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Habif TP (2010). Bacterial infections. In Clinical Dermatology, A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy, 5th ed., pp. 335–381. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.
Morelli JG (2011). Cutaneous bacterial infections. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 2299–2308. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Current as of:
June 25, 2012
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
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