American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Impetigo - A Common Skin Infection Among Children

Little boy taking a bathA highly contagious bacterial infection, impetigo often starts when a small cut or scratch becomes infected. Though 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. The rashes consist of red spots or blisters that rupture, discharge, and become encrusted. People with impetigo should not scratch the sores because they may inadvertently spread the infection to other parts of their bodies.

Causes of Impetigo

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 preschool and school-aged children, especially during the summer. 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.

Treatment and Prevention

The most important way parents can prevent impetigo is by keeping their child’s skin clean and taking extra care during the winter months, especially if you live in cold climates. Osteopathic physicians (DOs) recommend giving your child daily baths or showers with anti-bacterial soap and warm water. They say to pay special attention to areas of the skin with cuts or scrapes, as well as rashes on the skin.

If impetigo is not improved after three days, or any new infected areas appear, call your physician immediately. If you don't have a physician, consider finding a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Using a whole-person approach to care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to assess the impact of environmental and lifestyle factors on your health. They are trained to listen and partner with their patients to address their health care needs.

If left unattended, this infection can cause serious problems, such as pain; swelling; tenderness of the infected areas; discharge of pus; or fever.

If the infected areas are relatively small, DOs suggest trying simple home remedies:

  • Try to ​by soaking the infected area in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes

  • Then scrub the area gently with a washcloth and antibacterial soap

  • Apply antibiotic ointments

  • Cover the area with gauze or a loose plastic bandage, if possible.

Preventing Impetigo from Spreading

One of the main issues with impetigo is preventing it from spreading. For instance, when your child has a runny nose, keep the area between the upper lip and nose clean. The nose is most often the source of impetigo germs.

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.

These precautions can help eradicate the "bug" that causes the infection.

Even though impetigo is not life threatening, it could lead to life-threatening situations. However, this infection is very manageable. With the proper medical attention, it can be easily treated.​​​​​​


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