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What is impetigo?

Impetigo is a skin infection that is common in children and infants, although adults can also catch it if they come into contact with the bacteria or someone who is infected, as it is contagious.

Impetigo causes

Staphylococcus aureus and streptococcus pyogenes, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria are the usual causes of impetigo. When the outer layer of your skin becomes infected with this bacteria, it results in sores or blisters.

Hot humid environments or crowded spaces are common places for the bacteria to thrive. It is highly contagious and is often picked up at school or nursery, or at swimming pools or in gym changing rooms.

Impetigo is usually categorised in two ways:

  • Primary impetigo – where the infection affects healthy skin.
  • Secondary impetigo - this is when impetigo bacteria gets into skin that has been damaged by another condition, such as scabies or eczema or if it gets into a break in the skin, such as a scratch, cut or insect bite.

To read more about the causes of impetigo.

Impetigo symptoms

Impetigo symptoms are usually mild and will normally get better, even without treatment. However, to speed up recovery time, it is recommended that you seek treatment. This also helps to prevent you spreading it to other people, or to different parts of your body.

The most common type of impetigo is called non-bullous impetigo. You’ll start with itchy red sores or spots, usually around the nose and mouth, which will eventually burst, forming a yellowy crust. These will leave red marks, but will fade after a couple of weeks.

Bullous impetigo is less common and is more common in newborns. This starts with fluid-filled blisters, most typically on the central part of the body. Again, these will eventually burst and leave a crust before healing, but may be painful.

Read a more comprehensive list of impetigo symptoms.

Impetigo diagnosis

If you think you may have impetigo, you should speak to a doctor to get treatment. At Push Doctor, you can speak to a GP through a face-to-face video consultation.  They’ll listen to you to get a good understanding of your symptoms, and take a look at the affected area to give you a diagnosis.

Impetigo can often occur at the site of a break in the skin, such as an insect bite, scratch cut, or at the site of another skin condition, such as eczema, so you should let the doctor know if anything like this affects you.

Further tests are not usually necessary. For more details on what will happen during your consultation to diagnose impetigo.

Impetigo treatment

As impetigo is a bacterial infection, an antibiotic treatment should be all that is needed to treat it. The skin condition will get better on its own, but as it is highly contagious, it is recommended that you get treatment to clear it up as quickly as possible.

Impetigo treatments include:

  • Antibiotic cream
  • Antibiotic tablets

Impetigo cream is usually recommended for mild cases of the infection, and if only a small area is affected. If the impetigo does not improve with this treatment, or if it is widespread, a doctor may recommend an oral antibiotic, alongside the cream to treat the condition.

Once you start treatment, the impetigo will usually clear up within a week, with symptoms showing signs of improvement after approximately four days.

To find out more about how to treat impetigo.

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