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Ask Dr. Sears: A Common Skin Problem

Q. My child was just diagnosed with impetigo. What is it, and what should I expect?

A. Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that kids often get. Though it can occur anywhere on the body, it tends to appear in areas that harbor bacteria  -- such as below the nose and around the diaper area  -- and anywhere there's broken skin.

It usually begins as tiny, red raised spots that resemble picked-at pimples. As the condition progresses, the spots vary in size  -- from as small as a pencil eraser to as large as a quarter  -- and become circular and blistery. It typically spreads along the edges of the affected area and eventually ruptures, producing an oozing, sticky, honey-colored crust.

Mild cases of impetigo are treated with a prescription antibiotic ointment. More severe eruptions  -- meaning large or widespread sores  -- often require an oral antibiotic. The infection is contagious until your child has been on antibiotics for 48 hours. However, you can help prevent it from spreading to other parts of her body and to other people by cutting her fingernails so she can't scratch the sores  -- which also helps speed recovery  -- and covering the spots with a bandage. With the proper treatment, impetigo tends to subside within a week or two.