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Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection. It causes sores and blisters on the skin: the blisters grow, burst, and then leave patches with crusty edges. They are usually quite itchy.
The skin sores appear 4 to 10 days after exposure to the infection-causing bacteria. The sores are contagious and can be easily spread to other people or other parts of the body as long as the blisters are moist and weeping fluid. Once they have completely scabbed over, they are no longer contagious.
In addition to the skin lesions, impetigo may be accompanied by symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, or a general feeling of being unwell.
What causes it?
Impetigo is caused by the very common Staphylococcus and Streptococcus groups of bacteria. Usually, these bacteria can stay on the surface of the skin and cause no problems, but if the skin is cracked or scratched, the bacteria enter the layers of the skin and cause an infection. If you have conditions that leave your skin broken or damaged, such as eczema, injuries, or allergies, you may be more likely to get impetigo. Make sure to take care of your skin and get appropriate treatment for other conditions that affect your skin.
Who gets it?
Impetigo most often occurs in young children, but it can occur in older children and adults, as well. It spreads easily in confined environments such as nurseries, day cares, schools, dormitories, and army barracks. If adults are caring for children with impetigo, they should take care not to touch the blisters and to always use good hygiene practices.
How is it treated?
Since impetigo is caused by bacteria, antibiotics are effective treatments. Additionally, you can manage the disease by:
- Washing your skin every 8 to 10 hours with warm, soapy water; pat dry using a clean towel
- Cover lesions with waterproof bandages
- Do not scratch the lesions, since this increases the chance that you will spread the infection
Should I worry?
Usually, impetigo does not cause long-term serious problems. If left untreated, however, the infection may spread to the lymph nodes or deeper layers of the skin.
You can avoid contracting and spreading the infections by:
- Not touching open sores on yourself or another person
- Washing your hands regularly
- Not sharing anything that comes in contact with your skin, such as towels, tissues, and cosmetics
- Staying away from school or work
- Avoiding contact sports or the gym while you are contagious
Being pregnant does not place you at higher risk of getting impetigo. Additionally, the bacteria that cause the disease are not usually harmful to your growing baby.
Typically, the infection is limited to the skin, so topical antibiotic creams or ointments are sufficient treatment, and this method of administration limits the exposure your baby has to the drugs. If an oral antibiotic is required, your doctor will choose one that will not negatively affect your baby.
Impetigo can be dangerous to newborns, so if you have impetigo at the time of delivery, be especially careful not spread it to your baby.