What Is Impetigo?
Impetigo is a common bacterial skin infection that is usually caused by the staphylococcus (staph) or streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Impetigo is usually found on the face, around the nose or mouth, and on the fingers; it often develops in places where the skin is broken from a cut, a bug bite, a patch of eczema, or a chicken pox lesion.The bacteria are usually harmless unless they overpopulate a particular area or invade through an opening in the skin. They can be easily spread from one person to another and lead to outbreaks in families, day cares, and schools.
Symptoms and Signs of Impetigo
Symptoms include red, warm, swollen, itchy, and sensitive sores or small, pus-filled blisters. The sores develop over the course of a few days and last several more days before bursting open and forming scabs. If your child keeps scratching or picking at the sore, the infection can spread and create new sores on other parts of the skin near the original sore. The sores may leave scars, but this is not common. In rare cases, the bacteria can reach the blood supply, causing blood poisoning, which can damage internal organs such as the heart valves and kidneys.
While impetigo rarely leads to serious complications, one rare condition that affects very small children is scalded skin syndrome, which may be caused by staphylococci bacteria. The illness begins as a localized staphylococcus infection, but a toxin produced by the bacteria causes a generalized skin reaction. A rash begins around the mouth and then spreads to the rest of the body. Blisters burst open, leaving sores on the skin surface that look like burns. The child often has fever and pain. This serious condition needs be treated in the hospital with intravenous antibiotics. Most children recover completely after this skin infection, without scarring or other long-term complications.
How to Prevent Impetigo
Thorough hand-washing is the best prevention against spreading impetigo. Children should wash hands often and use only their own towels and washcloths. Those with any type of skin infection should not touch the sores, and fingernails should be cut short so that they will not harbor germs or create new sores through scratching.
Covering the sores will reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to others. Children with impetigo can attend day care or school if the sores are well bandaged. If the child has numerous sores that cannot be covered, he should not be sent to school until all the sores have dried up and scabbed over. If there are many children at a day care or school with impetigo, steps should be taken to prevent further spread, such as washing toys daily, using disposable gloves, and cleaning other objects that can cause the infection to spread. Local health departments can help with preventive measures.
Treatment for Impetigo
Call your doctor if your child has impetigo, but most cases can be treated at home. Wash the affected skin with antibacterial soap and water several times a day and then apply some antibacterial ointment. This condition should improve within a week or so. If there is no sign of improvement within a few days and the child still has impetigo blisters and fever, contact a doctor, who will decide if the child needs a prescription-strength antibiotic ointment or an oral antibiotic.