Impetigo is a highly contagious skin condition caused by bacteria which results in an itchy skin condition that is highly infectious. This is not a serious condition but it is contagious and care must be taken to avoid spreading it to other people particularly babies.

Impetigo usually clears up by itself but cases which don’t are treated with antibiotics.

This condition affects children more than adults: this is due to their close proximity with others in nurseries and schools which enables infections such as this to spread. But adults can also contract this condition if they live in a close knit environment.

Two types of impetigo

There are 2 types of impetigo which are:

  • Bullous
  • Non-bullous

Bullous impetigo is characterised by a rash of blisters which contain a yellow coloured fluid.

Non-bullous impetigo is more infectious than the bullous version and presents as a series of red sores which rupture, leaving small yellowish crusts.

Impetigo is also categorised into primary and secondary infections. Primary impetigo occurs as a result of bacteria entering the skin via a cut or graze. Secondary impetigo develops as an offshoot of another skin condition, for example eczema.

Non-bullous impetigo is the most common out of the two and accounts for 70% of cases.

Causes of impetigo

Impetigo is caused by two types of bacteria:

  • Streptococcus Pyogenes
  • Staphylococcus Aureus

Most impetigo outbreaks are caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria.

Impetigo develops when bacteria invade the skin via a cut, bite or graze but it also occurs alongside another skin infection such as scabies.

Symptoms of impetigo

It takes between 5 to 10 days after the initial exposure before the symptoms appear. These symptoms depend upon whether you have the bullous or non-bullous variety.

Bullous impetigo causes a skin rash comprised of fluid filled blisters which spread across the body or arms and legs. They do not affect the head or face. These blisters erupt leaving a yellowish crust which heals by itself and does not cause any scarring.

This is accompanied by swollen glands and a high temperature.

Non-bullous impetigo causes itchy red spots to appear on the face, usually around the nose and mouth. But there may spread to other areas of the body. These spots also erupt, leaving a yellow-brown crust which dries out after a few days and a red mark which heals by itself. There is no scarring.

Diagnosing impetigo

If you notice any of these symptoms then visit your GP. He or she will formulate a diagnosis based on the type of rash you have and any other symptoms.

Impetigo presents with symptoms which are similar to other skin conditions, for example chickenpox and cellulitis which makes for a difficult diagnosis. Your GP may refer you for tests in this case or if you have a severe or repeating form of impetigo.

A small swab is taken from an infected area of skin and sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Treatment for impetigo

This condition often clears up on its own but if you are the parent of a child with impetigo or have symptoms which have not cleared then treatment will be required.

Impetigo is treated with antibiotics. These are prescribed as a cream which is applied to the infected skin or as tablets which are taken over a 7 day period.

If you do not notice any improvement after 7 days then go back to your GP.