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Impetigo is a contagious bacterial skin infection frequently occurring in infants and young children. It is almost always caused by one of two types of bacteria: Staphylococcus (staph) or streptococcus. Impetigo usually develops where the skin surface is compromised, enabling bacteria to invade. This may occur where the skin has a cut, scratch, bite or itchy rash. Impetigo often occurs at the end of a cold, when the skin around the nose or mouth is sore. The first signs of impetigo are the appearance of small itchy pimple-like sores. They may appear anywhere on the body, but most frequently occur on the face, arms, or legs. The sores eventually fill with honey-colored pus, break open after a few days and form a yellowish crust. The itchy sores can be spread by scratching to other parts of the body or from one person to another.

Treatment of Impetigo

Treatment for impetigo depends on the severity of the infection, but most often involves soaking the crusted areas and applying topical antiseptics and antibiotics. In severe cases, impetigo is treated with oral antibiotics. The prescribed course of antibiotic treatment should always be completed to prevent reinfection and the possibility of the bacteria becoming antibiotic-resistant.

In certain cases, impetigo secretions may be cultured to make sure that the prescribed antibiotic will be effective against the particular strain of bacteria causing the problem. At times, impetigo may be caused by the bacteria methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) and may require treatment with more powerful antibiotics.

Risks of Impetigo

Because impetigo is highly contagious, it is important for patients with impetigo to wash frequently, using clean washcloths and towels each time. In order to prevent spreading the infection, children should be kept home from school for 1 to 2 days after beginning antibiotic treatment, and all patients should be careful not to share any personal items, such as washcloths or razors.

While impetigo is a highly treatable ailment that rarely involves complications, there are some risks if the disorder is left untreated. In severe cases, impetigo invades the skin more deeply, resulting in a skin disorder known as ecthyma. Echtyma usually occurs in older adults or in people with diabetes or other autoimmune diseases. Other rare complications include scarring, cellulitis, and kidney damage.