Impetigo is a very contagious skin infection. It is most common in children and infants, and is more likely when children start attending daycare centres or schools. It is sometimes called ‘school sores’. Impetigo is found generally on the face, especially around the nose and mouth.
Impetigo is caused by 2 types of bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. These bacteria infect either normal skin or skin already affected by another skin condition such as eczema or insect bites.
Impetigo usually starts as small, raised red spots on the skin that quickly turn to little blisters filled with clear fluid or pus. These blisters can then break and start to weep — usually discharging pus and sometimes a clearer liquid. Yellow or brownish scabs then form, which can itch but are otherwise not painful.
Take your child to the doctor as soon as you suspect impetigo. Your doctor will examine your child and may use a swab to send a small amount of fluid from the sores to a lab for testing.
Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment to apply directly onto the affected skin or an antibiotic to take by mouth. Your doctor will also advise you how to bathe the sores. Follow the treatment advised by your doctor carefully, making sure that you complete the course of any antibiotics prescribed.
The sores should be washed and dressed in the following way to lessen the chance of spreading the infection.
Impetigo is very contagious. Do not send your child with impetigo to school or pre-school until the treatment prescribed by your doctor has commenced, and all the sores are covered with watertight dressings.
The infected child should not use the same towels, linen or flannels as the rest of the family. Do not share grooming items such as tweezers, nail clippers or toothbrushes until the sores have healed.
Everyone in the family must be careful about hand washing. Try to stop your child (or anyone else in the family) from touching the sores, and cut your child’s fingernails short to prevent scratching.
See your doctor again if:
Rarely, kidney inflammation may develop 2 weeks or so after impetigo caused by Streptococcus bacteria. Signs to watch for are facial swelling, nausea or vomiting, or back pain. An affected child may also pass less urine than normal, have blood in their urine or discoloured urine and have painful or stiff joints. Seek immediate medical attention if your child develops any of these symptoms.
Last Reviewed: 08 February 2012