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Impetigo Skin Infection - Facts and Information

  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-11-11 - Impetigo is one of the more common forms of skin infections experienced by children. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Thomas C. Weiss.

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Impetigo is a contagious form of skin infection that produces sores or blisters on a child's hands, neck, face and in their diaper area.

Impetigo is one of the more common forms of skin infections experienced by children and is usually caused by one of two bacteria; group A streptococcus or staphylococcus aureus. The infection affects preschool and school-age children, with children being more likely to develop the infection if their skin has already been irritated by other skin issues such as poison ivy, insect bites, or eczema.

Unfortunately, Impetigo is contagious. The infection spreads through direct contact with a person who has it, although it may be spread through toys, towels, household items or clothes. Once an infection has begun, it has the potential to spread to other areas of a person's body, something that is common among children with the infection. 'Mini-epidemics,' can occur in day care centers or schools. Bacteria that cause Impetigo can enter through a scrape or a cut.

At other times, the infection appears even when no one has it and a person's skin remains unbroken. Adults many times catch Impetigo through close contact with children who have the infection. Humidity and heat, in combination with the presence of eczema, give a person a predisposition to developing the infection. At times bacteria live in a person's nose, spreading to other parts of the person's skin.

Diagnosing Impetigo

Achieving a diagnosis of Impetigo is fairly straightforward, although on occasion additional conditions might appear to resemble it, such as ringworm or scabies. Not every blister or ooze signifies an infection; something that is important to remember. There are other infected and non-infected forms of skin diseases that produce blister-like skin inflammations, to include chickenpox, poison ivy, herpes cold sores, insect bites, and eczema. Secondary infection from these diseases can happen at times, although blistering many times occurs from the original condition and does not mean that an Impetigo infection has developed.

There are two types of Impetigo:

  • Bullous Impetigo; which involves large blisters
  • Non-bullous Impetigo; or, 'crusted,' Impetigo

Non-bullous or crusted Impetigo is more common than Bullous Impetigo and is usually caused by staphylococcus aureus, but may also be caused by an infection with group A streptococcus. Non-Bullous Impetigo starts as tiny blisters that end up bursting, leaving small, wet patches or red skin that can seep fluid. Eventually, a yellowish-brown or tan crust covers the infected area of the person's skin. Bullous Impetigo is almost always caused by staphylococcus aureus, which starts larger and fluid-containing blisters to appear clear at first, then cloudy. The blisters tend to remain intact for a longer period of time without breaking.

Treatment of Impetigo

An impetigo infection that is confined to a small area of a person's skin might be treated with antibiotic ointment. Should the infection spread to other areas of a person's body, or if the antibiotic ointment fails to work, a doctor might prescribe antibiotics in liquid or pill form. After treatment with antibiotics starts, the person should begin to heal within a few days. It is important to ensure the person takes the antibiotic as the doctor has prescribed it; if they do not, a more serious skin infection could develop. During the time it takes for the Impetigo infection to heal, it is important to gently wash the infected area of the person's skin with antiseptic soap, and to keep it covered with clean gauze. Soak any areas of the person's skin that are crusted in warm, soapy water to aide in the removal of the layers of crust.

Impetigo is not a serious form of infection; it might disappear and dry up on its own. Impetigo is easy to treat. Milder cases of Impetigo may be treated through gentle cleaning and removal of the crusts, as well as the application of prescription-strength antibiotic ointment. More severe cases of the infection, Bullous Impetigo in particular, might require administration of oral antibiotics.

Recent years have found some staph germs developing a resistance to standard antibiotics. Bacterial culture tests can assist medical personnel in choosing the appropriate oral antibiotic to treat Impetigo if necessary. If testing shows other bacteria such as drug-resistant staph or MRSA, treatment can be guided by the laboratory results.

One of the potential complications of Impetigo that is caused by strep germs is, 'glomerulonephritis,' a form of kidney condition that produces inflammation. Treatment of Impetigo does not prevent glomerulonephritis from happening, although it is not common and usually does not cause lasting kidney damage. Due to the fact that the blisters and crusts of impetigo are superficial, impetigo does not leave scars. The affected areas of the person's skin appear red for a while; it fades within a few days to weeks.

Call a doctor if your child has signs of Impetigo, particularly if they have been exposed to a classmate or family member who has the infection. If your child is already being treated for the infection, observe their sores and call the doctor if their skin does not start to heal after three days of treatment, or if your child develops a fever. If the skin around your child's rash becomes red, tender to the touch, or warm, call the doctor as soon as you can.

Preventing Impetigo

Impetigo has the potential to itch; kids may spread it through scratching and touch other parts of their body. The infection is contagious and may spread to others who come in contact with people who have skin that is infected or items that carry the infection such as towels, clothes, sheets, pillow cases and so forth that have been touched by infected skin. Good hygiene might help to prevent Impetigo.

In order to keep your child from spreading Impetigo to additional parts of their body, a doctor or nurse will most likely suggest covering infected areas of their skin with gauze and tape, or a loose-fitting plastic bandage. It is important to keep your child's fingernails clean and short. It is also important for both you and your child to use soap and water to keep your skin clean, being sure to take baths or showers on a regular basis. Pay particular attention to areas of the skin that have been injured, to include scrapes, cuts, eczema, rashes, bug bites, or areas affected by poison ivy.

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