Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection, which affects the skin. It begins with red sores or blisters, which burst, ooze fluid and leave a golden-brown crusty patch on the skin. The sores can grow bigger and spread to other parts and can develop anywhere in the body. Impetigo is not a serious condition; it can sometimes improve within a few weeks even without treatment. However, sometimes treatment is necessary.
There are two types of impetigo:
- Non-bullous impetigo: It is a common form of impetigo caused by Staphylococcus aureus. It begins as red sores around the nose and mouth. The sores range from 1 to 2 cm in diameter and can spread to the other parts of the skin. In few days, the blisters break open and turn to honey-colored crusts. This type of impetigo is common in children and adults but is rare in children aged below 2 years.
- Bullous impetigo: This type begins as fluid-filled blisters known as bullae, which usually develop between the waist and neck or on the arms and legs. The blisters are about 2 cm in diameter and are not surrounded by a reddish zone. After some days, the blisters turn into limp, burst and form a yellow crust over the sore. This is more common in the newborns.
The symptoms of impetigo may include:
- Appearance of red sores, especially around the nose and mouth
- Itching and soreness of the affected skin
In severe forms, the sores can penetrate deep into the skin and develop into pus-filled sores that resemble ulcers and are painful.
Impetigo is caused by the bacteria of either strains namely Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. These bacteria enter the body through the cut skin, or when the skin is injured due to other skin problems such as eczema, insect bites or burns. However, impetigo can also occur in the healthy skin. Scratching can spread the infection to other parts of the body.
Impetigo is highly contagious and can spread to others through a physical contact or by using towels, toys or other personal items of the infected person.
The risk factors for impetigo include:
- Summer season
- Exposure to warm and humid environment
- Exposure to crowded places
- Participation in contact sports
- Weakened immune system
Although impetigo is not dangerous, it can rarely lead to the following complications:
- Kidney problems
- Scarring of the skin
- Cellulitis, a potentially serious skin infection that affects the underlying tissues and may spread to bloodstream and lymph nodes
The doctor can identify impetigo by visually examining the typical sores. Although no laboratory tests are needed to confirm impetigo, some diagnostic tests may be performed to rule out other serious conditions such as cellulitis. Laboratory testing is done to check for resistance and susceptibility of the bacteria when antibiotic treatment is not effective.
Impetigo turns non-contagious within 24 hours of treatment. However, the condition resolves completely after a week of treatment. The treatment options include:
- Topical antibiotic creams or ointments are prescribed to kill the bacteria and help in recovery. The affected area should be soaked in warm water and cleaned before applying the ointment to help in effective penetration of the medicine.
- Antibiotic tablets may be prescribed in case of severe impetigo, which should be taken for the prescribed period even if the sores appear to heal. Otherwise, it can lead to the recurrence of impetigo.
The self-care measures that could help in preventing the spread and worsening of the condition:
- Staying away from school or work until the condition improves
- Keeping the blisters or sores clean and dry
- Covering the blisters loosely with a cloth or gauze
- Washing the hands frequently
- Wearing gloves while applying the antibiotic ointment
- Washing the towels and bed sheets at high temperature
- Cutting the nails to avoid scratching