A highly contagious bacterial infection, impetigo often starts when a small cut or scratch becomes infected. Although this type of bacterial infection can affect adults, it is much more common in children.
“The symptoms of impetigo are honey-colored, crusty sores that often appear on the face between the upper lip and nose,” explains Robert Norman, D.O., an osteopathic dermatologist in Tampa and Riverview. “The rashes consist of red spots or blisters that rupture, discharge, and become encrusted.” He warns people not to scratch the sores because they may inadvertently spread the infection to other parts of their bodies.
This skin infection is caused by one of two bacteria, group A streptococcus, which is the bacteria also responsible for strep throat or staphylococcus. If impetigo is caused by streptococcus it will begin with tiny blisters. These blisters will eventually erupt, revealing small, wet patches of red skin. Gradually, a tan or yellowish-brown crust will cover the affected area giving the appearance that it is coated with honey. If caused by staphylococcus, people will notice larger blisters that appear to contain a clear fluid. These blisters stay intact for a longer period of time compared to the smaller ones.
“Impetigo usually affects pre-school and school-aged children, especially during the summer,” said Dr.Norman. “This type of infection has a special preference for skin that has been affected by other skin problems, such as eczema, poison ivy, or a skin allergy to soap.”
Impetigo is highly contagious. Children can spread this skin infection from one area of the body to another by touching the infected area and then touching other parts of their bodies. The infection can also spread to other household members through clothing, towels, and bed linens that have been in contact with the infected person. Classmates and playmates also hold themselves at high risk of infection by coming in contact with the infected person or anything that he or she has touched.
The most important way parents can prevent impetigo is by keeping their child’s skin clean. “This includes giving your child daily baths or showers with anti-bacterial soap and warm water,” explains Dr. Norman. “Remember to pay special attention to areas of the skin that has cuts or scrapes, as well as rashes on the skin.”
If the infected areas are relatively small, health care professionals suggest trying simple home remedies. “It is good to try to remove the crusts by soaking the infected area in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes, and then scrub the area gently with a washcloth and antibacterial soap,” he recommends. Another common remedy used is applying antibiotic ointments. However, the biggest issue to focus on is preventing impetigo from spreading. For instance, when your child has a runny nose, keep the area between the upper lip and nose clean. Physicians recommend spreading a thin layer of anti-bacterial ointment under the nose as well as applying it in the nostrils with a Q-tip. The nose is most often the source of impetigo germs. These precautions can help eradicate the bug that causes the infection.
“If impetigo is not improved after three to four days, or any new infected areas appear, a physician should be called immediately,” advises Dr. Norman. If left unattended this infection can cause serious problems, such as pain; swelling; tenderness of the infected areas; discharge of pus; or a fever of 100 degrees or higher.
Even though impetigo is not life threatening, it could lead to life-threatening situations. People need to understand that this infection is very manageable. With the proper medical attention, it can be easily treated.