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Impetigo

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Impetigo.

Impetigo is a skin infection common in young children. Staphylococcus bacteria causes more than 90% of cases. Streptococcus bacteria causes the rest.

The basics

Is impetigo dangerous?

Impetigo typically isn't dangerous. The sores in mild forms of the infection generally heal without scarring. In rare cases, complications of impetigo such as cellulitis, kidney problems, or scarring can occur. 

How is impetigo spread?

It spreads from one person to another when you come in contact with fluid that oozes from sores. It spreads easily in schools and child care settings due to the crowded conditions. Sharing towels, sheets, clothing, toys, or other items with an infected person may also spread impetigo. Additionally, scratching can also spread the sores to other parts of the body. 

Who gets impetigo?

Impetigo usually occurs in children but can also occur in adults. Adults and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop a more serious form of impetigo.  

How is impetigo diagnosed?

Health care providers diagnose most cases through physical examination. Your health care provider may also take a culture to determine the type of bacteria causing the infection.

Symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of impetigo?

Red sores are common signs of impetigo. The sores split and ooze for a few days. They then form a yellowish-brown crust. The sores usually occur around the nose and mouth but can spread to other areas of the body. Itching and soreness are generally mild.

Prevention

How can I prevent impetigo?

Keeping skin clean is the best way to keep it healthy. It's important to wash cuts, scrapes, insect bites, and other wounds right away. To prevent impetigo from spreading to others:

  • Gently wash the affected areas with mild soap and running water. Cover the area with gauze.
  • Wash an infected person's clothes, linens, and towels every day. Don't share them with anyone else in your family
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the infected area or applying antibiotics
  • Cut an infected child's nails short to prevent damage from scratching
  • Wash hands frequently with water and soap
  • Keep your child home until your doctor says they are no longer contagious

Treatment

What is the treatment of impetigo?

Health care providers treat impetigo with oral or topical antibiotics. It is important to take the medication as directed to ensure treatment is successful. 

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