Everything you need to know about impetigo
Impetigo is a common and contagious skin infection. Bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes infect the outer layers of skin, called the epidermis. The face, arms, and legs are most often affected. Anyone can get impetigo, but it most commonly affects children, especially those ages 2 to 5. The infection often begins in minor cuts, insect bites, or a rash such as eczema any place where the skin is broken. But it can also occur on healthy skin.
Causes of impetigo
Impetigo is an infection caused by strains of staph or strep bacteria. These bacteria can get into your body through a break in the skin from a cut, scratch, insect bite, or rash. Then they can invade and colonize.
The condition can be contagious. You can catch these bacteria if you touch the sores of a person with impetigo or you touch items like towels, clothes, or sheets that the person used.
However, these bacteria are also common in our environment, and most people who come in contact with them won’t necessarily develop impetigo.
Some people normally carry staph bacteria on the inside of their nose. They may get infected if the bacteria spreads to their skin.
Adults and children are at higher risk for impetigo if they:
- Live in a warm, humid climate
- Have diabetes
- Are undergoing dialysis
- Have a compromised immune system, such as from HIV
- Have skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis
- Have a sunburn or other burns
- Have itchy infections such as lice, scabies, herpes simplex, or chickenpox
- Have insect bites or poison ivy
- Play contact sports
Symptoms of impetigo
The first signs of impetigo are reddish sores on the skin, often clustered around the nose and lips. These sores quickly grow into blisters, ooze and burst, and then form a yellowish crust. The clusters of blisters may expand to cover more of the skin. Sometimes the red spots just develop a yellowish crust without any blisters being seen.
The sores can be itchy and occasionally painful. After the crust phase, they form red marks that fade without leaving scars.
Infants sometimes have a less common type of impetigo, with larger blisters around the diaper area or in skin folds. These fluid-filled blisters soon burst, leaving a scaly rim called a collarette.
Impetigo can be uncomfortable. Occasionally, it may involve swollen glands in the area of the outbreak or a fever.
It’s a good idea to see your doctor if you suspect impetigo. Your doctor can usually diagnose the infection by its appearance.
If the sores don’t clear up with treatment, the doctor may want to culture the bacteria. This involves taking a little bit of the liquid that comes out of the sore and testing it to see what type of bacteria caused it to determine which antibiotics will work best against it.
What are the treatments for impetigo?
Antibiotics are effective against impetigo. Which type of antibiotic you get depends on how widespread or severe the blisters are.
If you have impetigo in only a small area of your skin, topical antibiotics are the preferred treatment. Options include mupirocin cream or ointment (Bactroban or Century) and retapamulin ointment (Altabax).
If your impetigo is severe or widespread, your doctor can prescribe oral antibiotics such as amoxicillin/clavulanate (Augmentin), certain cephalosporins, or clindamycin (Cleocin). These drugs may work more quickly than topical antibiotics, but they aren’t necessarily better at clearing the infection.
Oral antibiotics can also cause more side effects than topical antibiotics, such as nausea. With treatment, impetigo usually heals in 7 to 10 days. If you have an underlying infection or skin disease, the infection may take longer to heal.
Children with impetigo should stay home until they are no longer contagious if the lesions can’t be reliably covered. Adults who work in jobs that involve close contact should ask their doctor when it’s safe for them to return to work.
Good hygiene is the no. 1 way to prevent impetigo. Follow these tips:
- Bathe and wash your hands often to cut down on skin bacteria.
- Cover any skin wounds or insect bites to protect the area.
- Keep your nails clipped and clean.
- Don’t touch or scratch open sores. This will spread the infection.
- Wash everything that comes into contact with the impetigo sores in hot water and laundry bleach.
- Change bed linens, towels, and clothing that come in contact with the sores often, until the sores are no longer contagious.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces, equipment, and toys that may have come in contact with impetigo.
Don’t share any personal items with someone who has impetigo.
Complications and prognosis
An excellent prognosis is expected for complete recovery and recovery of the affected area when treating impetigo. In fact, many infectious disease specialists might suggest that a poor response to appropriate antibiotic therapy should raise concerns about the accuracy of the diagnosis.
A rare possible complication of impetigo caused by streptococcus bacteria is glomerulonephritis, a condition that causes inflammation of the kidneys. Many specialists aren’t convinced that treating impetigo will prevent glomerulonephritis.