Impetigo – symptoms, treatments and prevention

Impetigo is a highly contagious infection, which makes it more than likely that your child may come into contact with it whilst at school. But what is impetigo and how can you treat it?

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What is it?

Impetigo is a bacterial infection of the surface layers of the skin. It is not a serious condition but is highly contagious. There are two different types of impetigo – bullous and non-bullous.

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What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of bullous impetigo are fluid-filled blisters, which usually appear on the arms, legs and above the waist but not the head and neck. The blisters can spread quickly and the area surrounding them may be itchy. After a few days the blisters will burst and form a yellow crust. These will then heal without scarring.

Non-bullous impetigo starts with the appearance of red sores around the nose and mouth. These sores burst quickly leaving thick, yellow-brown crusts, which will heal by drying up and again won’t scar.

Fever symptoms and swollen glands can be common in cases of bullous impetigo, but are rare when your child has non-bullous impetigo.

Is impetigo common?

Yes. The bacterial infection is more common in children than adults because their immune system has not yet fully developed, says the NHS.

Do you need to take your child to the doctor?

Yes. This means your doctor can diagnose whether your child has impetigo or another infection, which could be more serious. There are many characteristics of impetigo that are similar to other skin conditions, such as chickenpox, shingles and excema, so these have to be ruled out first.

If impetigo is confirmed, your doctor will give antibiotics, in either tablet or cream form, to treat the bacterial infection. With treatment, impetigo should clear up after a week.

If the doctor gives you antibiotic cream, make sure you wash any affected area of your child’s body with warm, soapy water first. It’s advisable to wear latex gloves when applying the cream so as not to catch the infection yourself.

It’s important that your child takes the medication as prescribed by your doctor, or they may develop a more serious skin infection.

Should your child go to school?

No. It is best to keep your child at home until their sores have dried up or crusted over, or until two days after starting treatment to prevent the spread of infection.

What else can you do to prevent the spreading of impetigo?

When you look after your child, be sure to regularly wash your own hands. If you have any cuts or grazes, put plasters over them.

Wash any toys, towels, clothing and bedding that your child may have touched at high temperature, to prevent others in your family from catching the infection.

Also keep an eye on your child to make sure they don’t scratch! If they scratch an infected area then touch a non-infected area of their body, the infection will spread.

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What else may your child come into contact with during school?

Other infections like tonsillitis, verrucas, chickenpoxmolluscum contagiosum, threadworms, ear infections, ringworm, diarrhoea and vomiting are also common for your child to catch during school.

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