Family Health Guide

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Rashes: Impetigo


An infection of the skin that can occur if bacteria gets into a cut, scrape, or bug bite, impetigo shows up most commonly on the face, arms and legs. (Though less common, impetigo can also occur in perfectly healthy skin.) The telltale red sores often start small, around the size of a pimple, but can grow as big as a quarter and will burst, ooze, and form a honey-colored crust. Although sores are itchy, they aren’t painful. 


Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria cause the majority of impetigo cases but streptococcus pyogenes (strep) can be the culprit as well. These bacteria enter the skin through a cut or other wound, releasing a toxin that disrupts the binding of skin cells. 


Your pediatrician will examine the sores, and ask about any recent skin injuries. A biopsy and culture may also be necessary to confirm the diagnosis or rule out something more serious.  

Prevention To keep infection at bay, keep boo-boos clean, and apply antibiotic ointment. To prevent impetigo from spreading throughout your household, wash your infected child’s sheets, clothes and towels. You can help keep it from spreading to other parts of your child’s body by cutting fingernails so they can't scratch the sores, and covering the spots with a bandage.  


Because impetigo is very contagious, be sure to keep your child home from daycare, school, and camp, and keep her out of swimming pools, until she has seen a pediatrician. The physician will prescribe either a topical antibiotic, like mupirocin (if the infected area is small), or an oral antibiotic, like cephalosporin. (After 24 hours on antibiotic therapy, your child can return to normal activity.) Again, bandaging the infected area can keep impetigo from spreading and remove the temptation to touch. 

Complementary/Alternative Treatments

Your doctor might suggest removing crusts from the sores to get rid of the bacteria that’s collected underneath. Soaking in a vinegar solution (made with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to 1 pint of water) may help soften scabs for gentle removal (but don’t scrub). Then apply antibiotic ointment.