A highly contagious skin infection, impetigo usually develops in infants and children although anyone can contract the infection. The most common occurrences of impetigo happen during the summer and early fall. Usually, impetigo is caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (staph) or Group A streptococcus (strep). Bacteria can live harmlessly on the body because the skin normally acts as a barrier to infection. If you have cuts and abrasions, these bacteria can enter the skin and produce impetigo which begins as small patches of blisters.
You contract impetigo either by coming in contact with someone that has the infection or when open sores cannot heal as in the cases that develop on the mouths and noses of young children. Impetigo spreads easily and thrives in environments like daycares and schools.
Signs of Impetigo
With impetigo, the streptococcal infections have a one to three day incubation period and staphylococcal infections have a four to ten day period to develop. If you suspect impetigo, look for the following symptoms:
- Continual itching
- Painless blisters filled with fluid
- Red sores that rupture and ooze
- Painful pus-filled sores that become deep ulcers
Types of Impetigo
Your doctor can diagnose impetigo based on his or her visual exam or, if that exam is inconclusive, performing a biopsy of the area. There are three types of impetigo:
The most common form of impetigo, impetigo contagiosa, often starts as red sores on your child’s face, usually around the nose and mouth. After the sores burst, they develop a honey-colored crust. Eventually, all that remains is a red mark that will heal over time.
Usually found on children two and under, bullous impetigo causes painless, fluid-filled blisters that appear on the arms, legs, and trunk. Although the skin around the blister is often red, the sores are painless but may itch. With bullous impetigo, the sores may last longer than other forms of the disease.
Because ecthyma penetrates deeper into the dermis, the second layer of skin, it is the most serious type of impetigo. Usually found on the legs and feet, the sores associated with ecthyma develop from painful fluid- or pus-filled sores into deep ulcers. Even after the sores heal you may still have scars.
Treatment for Impetigo
If you are diagnosed with impetigo, your doctor will recommend a treatment to heal the sores and stop the infection from spreading. Because impetigo is very contagious, bandage sores while they heal. Treatment options may include:
With minor cases, your medical provider may suggest keeping the area clean and letting the infection heal on its own.
A topical antibiotic can be used to promote healing and reduce the chance of spreading impetigo.
For widespread or severe impetigo infections, your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic, which will attack the infection from the inside through the bloodstream. Make sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics to prevent a recurrence.
To lessen the chances that you or a family member will develop impetigo, wash hands frequently. Also clean and disinfect cuts, bites, or other damage to the skin immediately.