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When Your Child Develops Impetigo

By Jennifer Lee, PA-C

What is Impetigo?

Impetigo (im-puh-TIE-go) is a skin disease caused by staphylococcal and streptococcal bacteria that is highly contagious and mainly affects infants and children. This skin disease is most often seen in the summer months when the weather is hot and humid. Common sources of an infection in children are other children, pets, dirty fingers/fingernails, towels and day care centers. Impetigo can develop from any skin injury, such as an insect bite, or break in the skin; or from something as simple as irritation from a runny nose.

Appearance of Impetigo

Impetigo lesions appear on exposed parts of the body, such as hands, neck and extremities, especially around a child’s nose and mouth. The sores begin as very small red sores. As they progress, they rupture easily and ooze a yellow fluid for a few days. When the ruptured lesions begin to heal, they crust over with yellow, honey-colored crusts. The crusts of impetigo can be removed easily, usually leaving a smooth, moist area of skin behind. These moist, exudative areas, when touched, can cause the infection to spread to other parts of the body.

Impetigo Treatment

Impetigo is typically treated with oral antibiotics in combination with topical therapy. Such as Penicillin, or first-generation cephalosporin, is usually the first line of therapy, as most cases of impetigo are caused by staphylococcus aureus. Antibiotic ointment is also highly recommended. Impetigo can clear up on its own in two to three weeks, but through the use of antibiotics, the course of the disease can be shortened and help prevent the disease from spreading to others.

If your child has developed impetigo, you may need to keep them home from school or day care until they are no longer contagious. Children are no longer considered contagious 24-48 hours after starting antibiotic treatment. If not treated with medication, impetigo is contagious until the sores completely heal.

Preventing the Spread of Impetigo

Impetigo is very contagious, so if a member of your family is infected, it can be hard to manage it from spreading to the rest of the family. The best way to prevent the spread of this infection is to keep your skin clean, wash clothes/towels/linens from the infected person and wash hands frequently.

When to See a Doctor

If you think that your child has impetigo, talk to your primary care physician or dermatologist for a diagnosis. If you are coming in for an appointment, please ask your provider if you need to follow any precautions to prevent spreading the infection to others.


Topics and Subtopics: Children's Health & Skin Health

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Dermatology Pediatrics
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