by Kimberly Allen, RN
Impetigo is a highly contagious superficial skin infection. It is much more prevalent in preschool and school age children than adults because children’s immune systems are not fully developed yet. Impetigo is also more common in crowded environments as well as warm humid areas. People that participate in sports like wrestling where there is skin to skin contact also have an increased risk of developing impetigo as well as anyone that has chronic dermatitis.
Impetigo can be caused by two different bacteria, the staphlococcus aureus and streptococcus pyogenes, though recently methicillin resistant staphlococcus aureus or MRSA has been causing impetigo as well. Both the staph aureus and strep pyogenes can live on the surface of yourskin without causing any problems. It’s when they enter the skin through an opening like a scrape, cut, insect bite or some other injury to the skin causing an infection. However, impetigo can also develop without any break in the skin integrity noted.
There are 3 types of impetigo. The most common type is known as non-bullous impetigo. This type usually begins as a sore usually around your childs nose and/or mouth. The sore usually ruptures soon after forming and oozes either pus or a clear fluid that forms a honey colored scab over the surface. The scab will eventually disappear leaving a red mark that usually will heal without leaving a scar. These sores tend to be itchy but they are not painful. It’s important to keep your child from scratching the sores because they can cause the infection to spread.
Bullous impetigo generally affects infants and children under 2 years of age. In this type fluid filled blisters develop on the legs, arms and trunk. The area around the blisters usually is itchy and red but they are not painful. The blisters can be either large or small, they also tend to last longer than those associated with other types of impetigo. They do eventually rupture and crust over in a honey colored scab which will disappear.
Ecthyma is a more serious type of impetigo that penitrates further into the skin affecting the dermis or second layer of skin. In this type your child develops pus filled blisters that develop into ulcers that go deep into the skin on the legs and feet. These sores are usually very painful. The blisters eventually rupture developing a thick hard grayish yellow crust. In this type your child may develop scars after the sores have healed. This type can also affect the lymph nodes in the affected area.
Treating impetigo can not only limit the spread of infection but also heal the sores faster and improve the appearance of your childs skin. How your Dr will choose to treat your childs impetigo will depend on the type of infection and the severity of the infection. If the impetigo is mild your Dr may opt for using hygienic measures only. Most mild infections will heal on their own when the area is kept clean. Your Dr May also opt to prescribe a prescritption strength topical antibiotic to apply to the affected areas. For widespread impetigo and severe cases of non-bullous impetigo as well as ecthyma your Dr will prescribe oral antibiotics. It’s important that your child complete the entire course of antibiotic therapy even after the sores have healed or the infection can return.
The best way to prevent impetigo is to practice good hygiene. this is the best way to keep your childs skin healthy. Always clean and care for any injuries to the skin like cuts and scrapes or insect bites immediately. Applying over the counter antibiotic ointment to any superficial wounds is effective in preventing impetigo. If your child has impetigo always cover the sores lightly with gauze after washing with soap and water. Wash your childs clothing, towels and linens separately every day and do not allow anyone else in your family to use them. Always wear gloves when caring for your childs sores and then thoroghly wash your hands afterward. It’s also important to wash your hands frequently throughout the day.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.