Impetigo is an infection of the skin caused by bacteria known as strep (streptococcus) or staph (staphylococcus). MRSA, methicillin-resistant staph aureus, is also known to cause impetigo.
Bacteria live on the skin, but skin is waterproof and bacteria-proof as long as it stays intact. When breaks in the skin occur, either through injury or skin condition like eczema, bacteria invades the area of broken skin, potentially causing a skin infection. Common causes of skin breaks include bites, including animal, human and insect bites and trauma or injury. The break in the skin does not have to be visible to the naked eye. Children tend to suffer from impetigo more than adults. The infection is contagious so it is important to wear gloves when cleansing skin infected with impetigo.
Symptoms of Impetigo
Impetigo can present on the skin in a single location or as a widespread infection. Areas of infection may start as a single red bump that spreads when scratched. It is more common, however, for impetigo to cause small blisters filled with yellow pus. The blisters may feel itchy, so the condition tends to spread quickly in children. Other symptoms include red rash, skin lesions and swollen lymph nodes. In some cases, children may experience a low grade fever as the body fights off the infection.
Diagnosing the Infection
There is no formal test for impetigo. Pediatricians and dermatologists tend to diagnose the condition by sight. If the infection does not present with pus-filled blisters, the pediatrician may order a skin culture to test for bacteria.
The treatment for impetigo is oral or topical antibiotics. Topical antibiotics are applied to the skin. This treatment is used for small infections. More severe infections may be treated with oral antibiotics or a combination of oral and topical antibiotics.
Skin infected with impetigo needs to be washed multiple times a day with an anti-bacterial soap. It is important not to scrub the blisters as this will cause the infection to spread.
All bedding and clothing that comes in contact with affected skin should be washed in hot, soapy water. Do not reuse towels or washcloths after bathing infected skin. It may be best to protect furniture with a towel or other form of covering to prevent spread to other people in the household. Wash down all hard furniture with an anti-bacterial cleaner.
If impetigo is left untreated, the condition can cause kidney failure, extensive spreading and scarring of the skin.