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​What is impetigo?

Impetigo is a skin infection common in young children. More than 90 percent of cases are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, while the rest are caused by streptococcus bacteria.

What are the signs and symptoms of impetigo?

Red sores are common signs of impetigo. The sores may quickly split, ooze for a few days and then form a yellowish-brown crust. The sores usually occur around the nose and mouth but can be spread to other areas of the body. Itching and soreness are generally mild.

Is impetigo dangerous?

Impetigo typically isn't dangerous. The sores in mild forms of the infection generally heal without scarring. However, in rare cases, complications of impetigo such as cellulitis (serious infection that affects the tissues underlying the skin), kidney problems or scarring can occur.

How is impetigo spread?

It spreads from one person to another when you come in contact with fluid that oozes from sores. It easily spreads in schools and child care settings due to the crowded conditions. Sharing towels, sheets, clothing, toys or other items with an infected person may also spread impetigo. Additionally, scratching can also spread the sores to other parts of the body.

Who gets impetigo?

Impetigo most commonly occurs in children but can also occur in adults. Adults and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop a deep form of impetigo (ecthyma).  

How is impetigo diagnosed?

Most cases of impetigo can be diagnosed through physical examination. However, your healthcare provider may also take a culture to determine the type of bacteria that is causing the infection.

What is the treatment of impetigo?

Impetigo needs to be treated with oral or topical antibiotics. It is important to take the medication as directed to ensure treatment is successful.

What can be done to prevent impetigo?

Keeping skin clean is the best way to keep it healthy. It's important to wash cuts, scrapes, insect bites and other wounds right away. To help prevent impetigo from spreading to others:
  • Gently wash the affected areas with mild soap and running water and then cover lightly with gauze
  • Wash an infected person's clothes, linens and towels every day and don't share them with anyone else in your family
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the infected area or applying antibiotics
  • Cut an infected child's nails short to prevent damage from scratching
  • Wash hands frequently with water and soap
  • Keep your child home until your doctor says he or she isn't contagious.

Boston Public Health Commission
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