What is impetigo?
Impetigo is a very common (and highly contagious) skin infection that is caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Although it can affect anyone, it is most often found in preschool-aged children. Impetigo appears as red blisters or bumps on the face, usually around the nose and the mouth. The blisters may ooze or rupture and release an amber-coloured fluid that dries and forms a honey-coloured crust.
What causes impetigo?
Impetigo can occur when the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that normally live on skin get into cuts, scrapes, or insect bites. It can also occur after someone has had chicken pox and can even develop on normal, healthy skin.
What are risk factors for impetigo?
- Young age. Infants and children under 6 years old are at greater risk, since their immune systems are still developing.
- Crowded conditions. Impetigo may be easily spread in crowded places such as schools and daycares.
- Direct contact. Impetigo may be spread if someone touches you after touching their rash or if you touch their rash directly. It could also be spread through playing sports that involve skin-to-skin contact.
- Indirect contact. The bacteria can be spread through the sharing of intimate items such as bed sheets, clothing, and towels.
- Poor personal hygiene. Poor hygiene can promote the spread of impetigo.
- Warm, humid conditions.
- Predisposing factors such as chicken pox, insect bites, burns, dermatitis, scabies, diabetes and HIV infection.
Is it serious?
Impetigo is usually not serious and typically goes away on its own within 3 weeks. However, impetigo could potentially lead to complications such as kidney inflammation, severe inflammation of connective tissue under the skin (called cellulitis), and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. Because of this, your doctor may decide to prescribe antibiotics that are either applied on the skin or taken by mouth.
How can the spread of impetigo be prevented?
- Keep the sores covered lightly with gauze. Always wash the sores with mild soap and water and dry thoroughly before covering.
- Always wash your hand thoroughly after touching the sores.
- Do not share clothes, towels, or bed sheets with an infected family member.
- Wash the infected family member’s clothes, towels, and bed sheets separately.
- Make sure any antibiotic treatment is finished as prescribed by the doctor.
- Keep the infected person at home until the infection has cleared up.