When Your Child Has Impetigo

When Your Child Has Impetigo

Find Services and other Health Information from A-Z


When Your Child Has Impetigo 

Closeup of mouth showing sores near lips and around nose.Impetigo is a skin infection. It is contagious (can spread from one person to another). Impetigo usually appears as a rash around the nose and mouth but can appear anywhere on the body. It is often mistaken for illnesses such as shingles or chickenpox. Impetigo can cause your child mild discomfort. But it’s generally not a serious problem. Most cases can easily be treated with medication and home care.

What Causes Impetigo?

Impetigo is usually caused by Staphylococcus (staph) or Streptococcus (strep) bacteria.

Who Is More Likely to Get Impetigo?

Your child has a higher chance of getting impetigo if he or she:

  • Has a staph or strep infection of the nose or mouth.

  • Has a skin condition such as eczema.

  • Often gets insect bites, cuts, or scrapes.

  • Lives in close quarters with many other people.

How Is Impetigo Spread?

Children can spread the infection by:

  • Touching or scratching infected skin and then touching other parts of their bodies.

  • Sharing personal items, such as clothing or towels, that have been in contact with infected skin.

What Are the Symptoms of Impetigo?

Impetigo often starts in a broken area of the skin. It appears as a rash with small, red bumps or blisters. The rash may also be itchy. The bumps or blisters often pop open, becoming open sores. The sores then crust or scab over. This can give them a yellow or gold (honey-colored) appearance.

How Is Impetigo Diagnosed?

Impetigo is usually diagnosed by how it looks. To get more information, the doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. The doctor will also examine your child. If needed, material or fluid from the infected skin can be tested (cultured) for bacteria.

How Is Impetigo Treated?

  • With treatment, impetigo generally goes away within 7 days.

  • Your child is no longer contagious 24 hours after starting treatment. The infected skin should be covered with bandages or gauze when your child is at school or daycare.

  • For mild cases, antibiotic ointment is prescribed. Before each application of the ointment, wash your hands first with warm water and soap. Then, gently clean the infected skin and apply the ointment. Wash your hands afterward.

  • Ask the doctor if there are any over-the-counter medications appropriate for treating your child.

  • In some cases, the doctor will prescribe oral antibiotics. Your child should take ALL of the medication until it is gone, even if he or she starts feeling better.

Call the doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • Symptoms that do not improve within 48 hours of starting treatment

  • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39.0°C) or higher

  • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older

  • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

How Is Impetigo Prevented?

Follow these steps to keep your child from passing impetigo on to others:

  • Teach your child to wash his or her hands with soap and warm water often. Handwashing is especially important before eating or handling food, after using the bathroom, and after touching the infected skin.

  • Trim your child’s fingernails short to discourage him or her from scratching the infected skin.

  • Wash your child’s bed linen, towels, and clothing daily until the infection goes away.