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The Ins and Outs of Impetigo

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Impetigo is common among preschool-age children. It begins as a blistery, red, and uncomfortable rash, often accompanied by pimple-like protuberances that are filled with pus. These very often burst and the affected areas then become scabby and itchy.

Two types of bacteria cause impetigo: streptococcus pyogenes (strep) and staphylococcus aureus (staph). The condition is highly contagious.

In preschool-age children, the sores mostly appear under the nose and around the mouth. In general this is not a serious illness, but a passing infection which often clears up on its own within three days. In more serious cases, impetigo is treatable with antibiotics.

Since small children are still developing immunities to infection, they are more likely than older children and adults to contract the infections which may lead to impetigo. Similarly, older children and adults with compromised immune systems would also be at a higher risk for contracting it and certainly for passing it along since it doesn't discriminate when it comes to infecting others.

While many times impetigo is treated with oral antibiotics, it is also common to treat this condition with topical antibiotics, with favorable results. Since there is no "impetigo drug" per se, trying a topical antibiotic may bring great relief and render oral antibiotics unnecessary. In general oral antibiotics are used in more extreme cases.

People with diabetes are at a greater risk of experiencing complications related to impetigo, and certainly if the condition does not clear up on its own or through treatment under a physician's care, further testing may be required to ensure there are no underlying conditions or that there has not been a misdiagnosis.

One of the best things to do if you have impetigo is to keep the area, if at all possible, covered with light gauze to prevent your scratching, infecting it further and causing it to spread. Keeping your fingernails short and limiting contact with others for a few days is also recommended.


"Diagnosis and Treatment of Impetigo - March 15, 2007 - American Family Physician."Home Page -- American Academy of Family Physicians. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Sept. 2011. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0315/p859.html

"Impetigo ." KidsHealth. Web. 9 Sept. 2011. http://kidshealth.org/teen/infections/skin_rashes/impetigo.htm

"impetigo - Bing Health." Bing. Web. 9 Sept. 2011. http://www.bing.com/health/article/mayo-126163/Impetigo?q=impetigo.

Reviewed September 9, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment1 Comments


Thank you, Aimee, for your article. My son was just diagnosed with this.

As an aside, in discussion with my doctor, she said that the topical antibiotics don't seem to be as effective as oral.

My son's spot was behind and inside the curl of his ear, which cleared up well with application of Sudocrem, which I had used as a diaper cream and discovered by chance was good for other things as well, including bee stings, mosquito bites, scrapes and sunburns. I would put this cream on at the onset of redness and it would clear up quickly. Even if the skin turned scaly, it would clear up usually within 12 hours and be completely gone within 24 (two applications a day). Although it didn't address the underlying bacteria and infection it certainly provided relief for the soreness and itchiness.

To prevent the spread, as well, it was suggested that when I do send him back to daycare that I keep the area covered with a bandaid. It also helps keep dirt, sand and other potential contaminants out, and them from scratching at it.

September 21, 2011 - 1:04pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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