Impetigo (im-peh-tie-go) is a common skin infection, especially in children. It’s also highly contagious.
Most people get impetigo through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. Children and athletes like wrestlers and football players often get it this way.
It’s also possible to get it by using something infected with the bacteria that cause impetigo. You can get it from an infected towel or sports equipment. Wearing infected clothing is another way to get impetigo.
Staph and strep cause most cases of impetigo. These bacteria cause impetigo by getting into the body. They can get in through a cut, scratch that barely breaks the skin, or bug bite. A rash, sore, or burn also provides a great entry point for the bacteria.
A child may get impetigo by scratching itchy eczema or chickenpox. The scratching breaks the skin, making it easy for the bacteria to get inside.
Sometimes impetigo develops on unbroken skin.
Treatment can quickly cure impetigo.
While highly contagious, impetigo is rarely serious. It often clears on its own in a few weeks.
Treatment, however, is recommended. By treating it, you reduce your risk of developing complications. Without treatment, the infection can cause new sores or blisters to develop for several weeks. The infection can also go deeper into the skin. This can be serious.
Treatment also reduces your risk of spreading impetigo to others.
Non-bullous impetigo: This is the most common type. It goes through these stages:
- Starts with one or more sores, which are often itchy.
- The sores quickly burst, and the skin can be red or raw where the sores have broken open.
- Glands near the sores may feel swollen.
- Crusts, usually honey-colored, form.
- The skin heals without scarring, unless scratching cuts deep into the skin.
The infection can spread to other areas of the body, where you’ll see this process begin all over again. This is one reason treatment is so important.
Bullous impetigo: This type causes fluid-filled blisters, but without redness on the surrounding skin. When a person has bullous impetigo, you’ll see it progress as follows:
- Blisters appear that contain a cloudy or yellow fluid.
- The blisters become limp and transparent and then break open.
- Crusty sores form where the blisters have broken open.
- The skin tends to heal without scarring.
Children aged 2 to 5 years old are most likely to get this extremely contagious skin infection.
Anyone, however, can get impetigo. Older children and adults get it. Adults often catch impetigo from an infected child.
Some athletes have a higher risk of catching it. Because of the skin-to-skin contact in sports like wrestling and football, these athletes often get impetigo. The bacteria that cause impetigo thrive in warm, humid places, so swimmers also have an increased risk.
Summer can catch it from touching an infected surface or sharing a towel with a swimmer who has impetigo.
People who live in hot, humid areas get more cases of impetigo. In the United States, people often catch it in the summer or fall.
What causes impetigo?
Bacteria cause this highly contagious skin infection.
Most people develop it when the bacteria, usually staph or strep, invade injured skin. A scrape on your skin is often enough to get infected. The bacteria may also get in through a cut, insect bite, or anything else that damages the skin. Once inside, the bacteria cause an infection in the top layers of the skin.
Sometimes, the bacteria invade uninjured skin and cause impetigo.
How do dermatologists diagnose impetigo?
A dermatologist can often diagnose impetigo by looking at your skin.