Family doctor



IMPETIGO - a patient's guide


Impetigo is a contagious skin infection that is mainly found in children. This article looks at treatment and prevention of the condition.


  • Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection which causes blistering and sores
  • Common areas affected include the face, arms and legs
  • Impetigo is highly contagious and mainly affects children
  • The blisters ooze pus and then scab over
  • Antibiotic treatment is usually prescribed to cure the condition
  • Children need to be kept home from day care or school while they are infectious
  • Good personal hygiene is necessary to stop it from spreading
  • The children's clothes, bedding and towels should be washed once a day

What is it?

Impetigo is a skin infection which causes crusting sores and blisters. Impetigo is also known as school sores and cellulitis in severe cases.

It is most commonly caused by either two forms of bacteria; streptococcus(strep) or staphylococcus (staph).

It is a common infection and effects an estimated one in 1000 people. It is highly contagious and mainly found in children. It may spread rapidly in the school situation.

The infection causes pusy blisters on the skin which are easily spread, especially in unhygienic conditions.

Impetigo can follow other skin conditions in adults. For example eczema which has been scratched and has a secondary infection.

What are the symptoms?

Impetigo causes a blistering rash. It begins with itching, the formation of blisters which then ooze a pussy discharge which dries with yellow or brown scabs.

The sores can spread and are normally found on the face, lips, arms or legs.

Other symptoms include fever, aches and pains, the shakes, headache, vomiting, and tiredness.

Diagnosis is normally made by a doctor recognising the infection. Sometimes a swab is needed to confirm the exact type of bacteria and which antibiotic it is sensitive to.

Impetigo can cause scarring and deep skin ulcers in rare cases. The infection may spread through the tissues of the skin (cellulitis). Rarely, a reaction to the streptococcus infection may cause kidney inflammation (nephritis).

What can be done to help?

Antibiotic treatment may be necessary to treat the condition. An antibiotic ointment can be prescribed for mild conditions, before it has spread. More severe infections, or widespread infections, are treated with oral antibiotics.

Wash the infected area with mild soap and water several times a day.

Use cotton wool to apply the antibiotic cream. Do not put the tube directly on the skin.

Wash the child's clothes, bedding and towels once a day in hot water and do not share them with other children.

It is important to exclude underlying conditions which may have resulted in scratching and infection - for example, eczema or scabies.

How can it be prevented?

Children should be excluded from day care centres and schools after the start of antibiotic therapy and until the blisters have stopped discharging and have healed up.

Good hygiene is necessary to prevent the spread of the infection.

Avoid skin contact with discharge from Impetigo sores. Wash hands after touching a blister. Throw away the antibiotic cream after the sores have healed.

Getting help

Your doctor, practice nurse, or public health nurse, will be able to help.

See also:

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