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Impetigo

  • Overview

    Impetigo is a superficial infection of the skin caused by bacteria, resulting in lesions that are often grouped and have a red base. The lesions eventually open, become crusty and appear honey-colored.

    • Impetigo is very contagious and can be spread throughout a household, with children reinfecting themselves or other family members. Proper hand-washing technique is critical to help decrease the chance of spreading the infection.
    • Impetigo usually occurs on the face, neck, arms and limbs, but the lesions may appear on any part of the body.
    • The condition is made worse by poor hygiene and warm temperatures.
    • Treatment may include oral or topical (skin applied) antibiotics.

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    Boston Children's Hospital 
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115
     (617) 919-2900
     fax: 617-667-1742


  • In-Depth

    What is impetigo?

    Impetigo is a superficial infection of the skin caused by bacteria, resulting in lesions that are often grouped and have a red base. The lesions open and become crusty and have a "honey-color," which is typical of impetigo. Impetigo is very contagious and can be spread throughout a household, with children reinfecting themselves or other family members.

    What causes impetigo?

    Impetigo occurs when common bacteria, some of which are found normally on the skin, enter an open area on the skin's surface and cause an infection.

    The most common bacteria that cause impetigo are:

    • group A hemolytic streptococcus
    • staphylococcus aureus

    Impetigo is more common in children than adults, but adults may also have the infection. Impetigo is made worse by poor hygiene and warm temperatures.

    What are the symptoms of impetigo?

    Impetigo starts as a small vesicle or fluid-filled lesion. The lesion then ruptures and the fluid drains, leaving areas that are covered with the honey-colored crusts. Impetigo usually occurs on the face, neck, arms and limbs, but the lesions may appear on any part of the body.

    Impetigo lesions may have different sizes and shapes. Your child may also have swollen lymph nodes (small lumps that are located mostly in the neck, arm, under the arm and in the groin area). The lymph nodes become enlarged when your child's body is fighting an infection.

    The symptoms of impetigo may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

  • Tests

    How can a doctor be sure it's impetigo?

    Since impetigo lesions are unique, a medical history and simple physical examination are usually enough for a diagnosis, but your child's physician may also order a test (culture) of your child's lesion to confirm the diagnosis and the type of bacteria present.

  • Specific treatment for impetigo will be determined by your child's physician.

    Things to know about treatment:

    • For a child with many lesions, oral antibiotics may be prescribed.
    • If your child only has a few lesions, your child's physician may prescribe a topical antibiotic applied directly to the lesions.
    • Your child should wash daily with an antibacterial soap to help decrease the chance of spreading the infection.
    • Everyone in the household should use proper hand-washing technique to help decrease the chance of spreading the infection.
    • Keep your child's fingernails short to help decrease the chance of scratching and spreading the infection.
    • Avoid sharing garments, towels, etc. to prevent the spread of the infection.
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