Skin deep

What parents need to know about this common skin infection among children

Learn the causes and symptoms of this bacterial infection as well as ways to treat impertigo.

Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can develop when a small cut or scratch becomes infected. Though this type of bacterial infection can affect adults, it is most 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 the body.

Causes of impetigo

Impetigo 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 that 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, larger blisters containing a clear fluid may develop.

Impetigo usually affects preschool and school-aged children, especially during the summer, and is more prevalent among patients suffering from other skin problems, such as eczema, poison ivy, or a skin allergy to soap.

The infection is highly contagious, easily spread by touching the affected area and then touching other parts of the body. The infection can also spread to other household members through clothing, towels, and bed linens that have been in contact with the infected person.

Treatment and prevention

The best way to prevent impetigo is by keeping skin clean and taking extra care during the winter months, especially if you live in a cold climate. Osteopathic physicians (DOs) recommend giving your child daily baths or showers with anti-bacterial soap and warm water. Pay special attention to areas of the skin with rashes, cuts or scrapes.

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

  • Soak 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

A key factor in preventing impetigo is keeping the infection contained. Since the nasal area is most often the source of infection, it helps to keep the upper lip and nose clean, especially if a child has a runny nose.

DOs recommend spreading a thin layer of anti-bacterial ointment in the nostrils and under the nose.

If symptoms persist, consult an osteopathic physician​ who can partner with you to get healthy and stay well.​​

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