When Your Child Has Impetigo 

Closeup of mouth showing sores near lips and around nose.

Impetigo often starts in a broken area of the skin. It looks like 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 appearance.

How is impetigo diagnosed?

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

How is impetigo treated?

Impetigo generally goes away within 7 days with treatment. Antibiotic ointment is prescribed for mild cases. Before applying 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 healthcare provider if there are any over-the-counter medicines appropriate for treating your child. In some cases, your child will take prescribed antibiotics by mouth. Your child should take all the medicine until it is gone, even if he or she starts feeling better.

Call the healthcare provider if your child has any of the following:

  • Fever (See Fever and children, below)

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

  • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit (axillary) temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

How is impetigo prevented?

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

  • Cut your child’s fingernails short to discourage scratching the infected skin.

  • Teach your child to wash his or her hands with soap and warm water often.

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

Handwashing is especially important before eating or handling food, after using the bathroom, and after touching the infected skin.