A black and white graphic of bacteria.
Impetigo is a bacterial infection that causes red sores around the mouth and nose.

Understanding the Different Impetigo Causes

Impetigo is a contagious skin condition that usually appears as red sores around the nose and mouth and on the feet and hands. It typically affects children, most commonly those aged 2 to 5 years old. Here we will talk about impetigo causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

These red sores often turn into blisters. In turn, they may start to have more of a yellowish crust to them. The result is itchiness and pain in the area affected. After this crusting phase, these spots will frequently turn back to red, then fade. In rare circumstances, the glands at the affected site may swell or your child may develop a fever.

In this article, we cover the common causes of impetigo, how to prevent it, and the treatment options available.

The Common Causes of Impetigo

If you suspect your child may have impetigo, it is always a good idea to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor. Your doctor can then recommend an appropriate treatment. But what causes impetigo in the first place?

The most common cause of impetigo is when the skin comes into contact with staphylococcus aureus bacteria or group A streptococcus bacteria. This bacteria then infects the skin, causing an outbreak.

Usually, there are two ways in which this bacterium infects the skin. It may get into the skin through a cut or insect bite, which is called primary impetigo. Or it may enter the skin through already damaged skin via another condition, such as eczema, head lice, or scabies. This is called secondary impetigo.

This bacterium can spread through someone who already has impetigo or through towels, linen, or toys. Symptoms often do not appear until 4 to 10 days after exposure, which sometimes makes it hard to narrow down the exact root of infection. However, impetigo often spreads through crowded situations, such as at daycare or during contact sports. Your child may also be more susceptible to impetigo if they have an open wound or insect bite, which means taking proper care in these situations is of the utmost importance.

Preventing Impetigo

Preventing impetigo frequently comes down to practicing good hygiene. Further, if you suspect your child may have impetigo, it is best to keep them at home until they are not contagious any more. Usually, after treatment has begun, a person is no longer contagious after 48 hours. They are also not contagious once the sores on their skin have healed.

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Use the following tips to prevent impetigo and to prevent it from spreading to other children or individuals:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Ensure proper care and coverage of cuts or insect bites.
  • If your child or an individual in your household is infected, wash their clothes, bedding, and towels each day and avoid sharing these items with other family members.
  • Use gloves to apply any treatment ointments.
  • Cut your child’s nails short to avoid damage caused by scratching and to avoid the infection from spreading.
  • Disinfect toys, surfaces, or any other objects that the person with impetigo has come into contact with.
  • Treat skin conditions properly and promptly, such as broken skin caused by eczema.

Treatment Options

Impetigo usually does not lead to any dangerous health situations. It also frequently heals with little to no scarring. Yet, this does not mean that complications do not happen.

For example, cellulitis, a serious infection, may develop. Cellulitis impacts the tissue under the skin. This increases the chances that the infection may travel into the bloodstream and the lymph nodes, meaning it can become life-threatening. Kidney problems may also occur, causing health complications. Further, scarring, although not common, can happen. Thus, treatment is essential to ensure serious complications do not develop and to ensure scarring is not left behind.

Treatment typically entails antibiotic cream or ointment, which is applied to the sores on the skin. Before the cream or ointment is applied, your doctor or pharmacist may direct you to soak the skin in warm water to ensure the antibiotics reach all the layers of the skin.

In more serious cases of impetigo or cases where the person’s body is not responding to the antibiotic ointment, antibiotic drugs may be prescribed. As with any antibiotic medication, ensure you or your child complete the entire prescribed medication, even if improvements are already present.

When to See Your Doctor

If you suspect impetigo or a condition similar, visit your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatment, preventing the spread and reducing the discomforts associated with it.

In some cases, herpes may be mistaken for impetigo. Herpes is a viral infection, which does not spread as quickly as impetigo. Impetigo also does not ever develop inside the mouth, like herpes does.

All in all, impetigo is a very treatable condition. As long as you take the proper precautions and get the condition diagnosed by your doctor, you can prevent the spread and reduce your child’s pain or itchiness as soon as possible. If you are ever unsure, an appointment with your doctor can help clear up any uncertainty.