IllnesschevronImpetigo

Impetigo

By Chelsea Roberts (She/Her)
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How severe is Impetigo?

Mild Impetigo isn’t immediately dangerous, and typically has no lasting effects. It is, however, highly contagious. Therefore, we recommend seeing your primary care provider if you suspect your kiddo has Impetigo, since there are easy and effective treatments.

What causes Impetigo?

Impetigo is caused when bacteria, usually Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes (group "A" Streptococcus) infects the skin.

Who gets Impetigo?

Impetigo is most common in little kids from 2-5 years old, but can also affect older children, and even adults. 

Is Impetigo contagious?

Highly contagious
Spreads by exposure

Impetigo is extremely contagious and spreads by contact. Kids and adults contract Impetigo in crowded settings, like daycares and schools, or in sports where there is skin-to-skin contact, like football. Folks are at higher risk of getting Impetigo if they have poor nutrition, diabetes mellitus, or breaks in the skin such as from mosquito bites, eczema, scabies, or herpes.

What are the symptoms of Impetigo?

Impetigo is hard to miss. The disease begins with red, itchy sores, usually around the nose or mouth. The sores break open and leak a clear/yellow fluid or pus for a few days. Next, a crusty yellow or “honey-colored” scab forms over the sore, which then heals without leaving a scar. Impetigo sores can easily spread from the original infection site to other parts of the body if your kiddo is touching or scratching the sores.

Impetigo

The disease begins with red, itchy sores, usually around the nose or mouth. The sores break open and leak a clear/yellow fluid or pus for a few days. Next, a crusty yellow or “honey-colored” scab forms over the sore, which then heals without leaving a scar.

Two less-common ways Impetigo can show up

Bullous Impetigo

Larger blisters show up (usually on the torso) of infants and young children, then rupture and leave a thin brown crust.

Ecthyma

A more serious form of Impetigo where the disease penetrates deeper into the skin — causing painful fluid- or pus-filled sores that turn into deep ulcers.

Not sure if these symptoms fit your kiddo’s rash?Our Panic-Free Symptom Checker can walk you through tons of common kiddo rashes, and let you know if it’s time to see a doctor. Try Symptom Checker

How to protect your child

The best way to prevent Impetigo is by good hand washing. A thorough hand wash, especially after coughing or sneezing, prevents the spread of the bacterias that cause Impetigo. We know this can be tough with young kids! Similar to other rashes like Hand, Foot, and Mouth, Impetigo is a disease that many children get, so don’t worry too much if yours does too!

What to do if your kid has it

When to seek medical care

Impetigo is contagious and spreads quickly. If you suspect your kiddo has Impetigo, we recommend making an appointment with your primary care provider.

Treatment

Depending on how much the rash has spread, you may be prescribed either a topical antibiotic (cream or ointment) or oral antibiotics to help treat the Impetigo.

Additionally, there are things you can do at home to prevent the spread of Impetigo to your other family members and communities:

  • Keep your kiddo home from school or daycare until after you see a primary care provider and begin antibiotic treatment.
  • Change and wash your infected kiddo’s clothes, sheets, and towels every day. Do not share towels.
  • Clean broken skin or open sores with soap and water and cover with a clean, dry bandage.
  • Avoid bathing your infected kiddo with other family members.
  • Avoid public pools or other bodies of water like lakes, rivers, and the ocean while your kiddo has any Impetigo sores.

Impetigo is often uncomfortable and can be itchy for kids. Some things that help are:

  • If the child is scratching the area a lot or it's really itchy, Benadryl can help especially at bedtime, but it can cause drowsiness or even hyperactivity in some kids.
  • Other things that can help are baking soda or oatmeal baths (if Impetigo is on an area of the body that can be bathed)
  • Applying a cold compress or cool washcloth to the area for a bit

Duration

With treatment, Impetigo usually resolves within 7-10 days and does not leave any scars.

Anything else?

Rare complications like kidney problems (post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis) can occur with Impetigo. If these occur, they usually happen one to two weeks after the skin sores go away. Symptoms of post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis include rust-colored or bloody urine, swelling (edema) often in the belly area or face, or joint pain/stiffness. This complication is extremely rare and happens less than one time in a million.

DisclaimerThis illness guide is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
911If you think your child may have a life threatening emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Headshot of Chelsea Roberts
Chelsea Roberts (She/Her)

Born and raised in the Portland area, Chelsea received her Masters in Physician Assistant Studies from Oregon Health and Science University, and is currently working on her Doctor of Medical Science degree. She has over 11 years of experience in pediatric medicine, in both primary and urgent care. When not at work, she enjoys traveling, hiking, camping, and exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her family and their rambunctious dog.

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