Understanding Impetigo

Impetigo is a common bacterial infection of the skin. It most often affects the face, arms, and legs. But it can appear on any part of the body. Anyone can have it, regardless of age. But it is most common in children. Impetigo is very contagious. This means it spreads easily to other people.

How to say it


What causes impetigo?

Many types of bacteria live on normal, healthy skin. The bacteria usually don’t cause problems. Impetigo happens when bacteria enter the skin through a scratch, break, sore, bite, or irritated spot. They then begin to grow out of control, leading to infection. There are two types of staphylococcus bacteria that cause impetigo. In certain cases, impetigo appears on skin that has no visible break. It may be more likely to occur on skin that has another skin problem, such as eczema. It may also be more common after a cold or other virus.

Symptoms of impetigo

Symptoms of this problem include:

  • Small, fluid-filled blisters on the skin that may itch, ooze, or crust

  • A yellow, honey-colored crust on the infected skin

  • Skin sores that spread with scratching

  • An itchy rash that spreads with scratching

  • Swollen lymph nodes

Treatment for impetigo

The goal is to treat the infection and prevent it from spreading to others.

  • You will likely be given an antibiotic to treat the infection. This may be a cream or ointment called muporicin to put on your skin. If the infection is severe or spreading, you may be given antibiotic medicine to take by mouth. Be sure to use this medicine as directed. Do not stop using it until you are told to stop, even if your skin gets better. If you stop too soon, the infection may come back and be harder to treat.

  • Avoid scratching or picking at your sores. It may help to cover affected areas with a bandage.

  • To prevent spreading the infection, wash your hands often. Avoid sharing personal items, towels, clothes, pillows, and sheets with others. After each use, wash these items in hot water.

  • Clean the affected skin several times a day. Don’t scrub. Instead, soak the area in warm, soapy water. This will help remove the crust that forms. For places that you can't soak, such as the face, place a clean, warm (not hot) washcloth on the affected area. Use a new washcloth and towel each time.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed

  • Increasing number of sores or spreading areas of redness after 2 days of treatment with antibiotics

  • Increasing swelling or pain

  • Increased amounts of fluid or pus coming from the sores

  • Unusual drowsiness, weakness, or change in behavior

  • Loss of appetite or vomiting