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What is Impetigo and How is it Treated?

Impetigo is a contagious bacterial skin infection.  It most commonly occurs in children under the age of 5.  Because it is contagious, it can spread to other areas of the body or to other people easily.  

It can spread when someone touches an impetigo rash, or through items that have been in contact with infected skin.  

What Causes Impetigo?

Impetigo is caused by bacteria, usually Group A Streptococcus (strep) or Staphylococcus aureus (staph).  These are normal bacteria that normally live on the skin – but they can become problematic when they get into scrapes or even bug bites.  In some cases, impetigo can occur when the skin is irritated by a runny nose.  

It occurs the most during warm sunny months.  This is when kids are playing outside more and end up with more bumps and scrapes, and itchy insect bites.  

Signs and Symptoms 

Impetigo causes blister-like sores or red pimples.  It usually appears around the mouth, nose, and skin not covered by clothes like arms or legs.  Eventually the blisters may start to ooze or crust-over with a yellowish scab.  

Parents need to watch out for signs of a more serious infection like fever, pain, swelling, or feeling weak.  This could be a sign that the infection is more serious than just a skin problem.  

Treatment of Impetigo

Impetigo needs to be treated with antibiotics.  In some cases, your doctor will use a topical cream or ointment to apply to the skin while in other cases, an oral antibiotic is required.  Call your doctor if you think your child has impetigo.  

Mupirocin is the most common prescribed topical antibiotic for impetigo.  If oral therapy is required, your doctor will usually prescribe cloxacillin or cephalexin.  There are other options if your child is allergic to penicillin.  

If your child has impetigo:

  • Keep the sores covered with a dressing until they are healed
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water, especially after touching the skin
  • Do not share facecloths or towels between family members
  • Make sure your child finishes the course of antibiotics prescribed
  • Keep your child’s nails trimmed so they don’t scratch their skin 

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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