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Show full transcript for Impetigo video

In this lesson, we'll be looking at impetigo – what it is, who is most at risk of getting it, how it's transmitted, what the signs and symptoms are, along with how impetigo is diagnosed, treated, and prevented.

Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that's caused by one of two types of bacteria – streptococcus (strep) or staphylococcus (staph). The bacteria enter the body most often after the skin has been injured or irritated from other skin problems like eczema, poison ivy, insect bites, burn, or cuts.

Impetigo is one of the most highly contagious skin infections and it mainly affects children. However unlikely, adults can also get impetigo.

Impetigo usually appears as red sores on the face, particularly around the nose and mouth, but it can also appear on the hands and feet. When the sores break open, a honey-colored crust follows.

Pro Tip #1: Children often get impetigo after they have a cold or when allergies flare up. All the nose wiping and nose blowing makes the skin under the nose especially raw and helps create the perfect environment. However, it can also develop in completely healthy skin.

Who is Most at Risk?

There are several factors that will increase the risk of getting impetigo and these include:

  • Age, as it's much more common in children ages two to five
  • Crowded living conditions
  • Spreads more easily in schools and childcare settings
  • Warm and humid climates, which is why impetigo is more common in summer
  • Participating in certain contact sports, like wrestling and football
  • Having uncovered broken skin, as bacteria usually enter the body this way

How is Impetigo Transmitted?

Impetigo is spread mainly by person to person contact, like with kids playing together at recess or through contact sports. It can be spread by touching items belonging to an infected person – towels, bedding, clothing – but this is far less common.

Also important to note, impetigo is mostly confined to humans.

Pro Tip #2: The period of communicability if left untreated can last weeks or months. However, after just 24 hours of appropriate treatment, this is usually enough to stop the possibility of the person still being infectious.

The incubation period for strep is one to three days, while the incubation period for staph is four to 10 days.

Signs and Symptoms of Impetigo

Sores typically begin as small red spots and change to blisters that eventually crack open. They can remain small as a pimple or grow large as a coin. They aren't usually painful but they're often itchy.

The sores can also increase in number, as well as size. And can eventually ooze fluid that then crusts over.

Testing and Diagnosis for Impetigo

Impetigo doesn't usually require anything other than a quick diagnosis done by a physician based solely on the physical appearance of the sores; lab testing is generally not necessary.

Impetigo Treatment Options

An antibiotic ointment applied directly to the affected areas is typically enough to treat impetigo. Though, soaking the infected areas in warm water first may help, as removing the scabs first will help ensure the antibiotics can better penetrate the skin.

In rare cases where there are numerous sores, a physician might prescribe an oral antibiotic. And it's important to finish whichever treatment the doctor prescribes, even if the sores have already healed, to prevent the infection from returning.

Impetigo Prevention Techniques

To prevent getting impetigo, the best thing you can do is keep your skin clean and dry and wash any cuts, scrapes, or insect bites as they happen. A little soap and water is usually sufficient.

If your child is infected, consider cutting his or her nails short to prevent them from hurting themselves or transmitting the infection to other areas in case they begin to scratch.

To prevent the spread of impetigo, gently wash the affected areas with mild soap and water and cover those areas lightly with gauze. Wash your clothing, bedding, towels, and other items daily and do not share them with others. Wear gloves when applying antibiotic ointment, and don't forget to wash your hands immediately afterward.