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Impetigo: Common Skin Infection

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

One of the classic skin infections I see during the summer months is an infection called impetigo.  Impetigo (not infantigo as some parents say), is a bacterial skin infection characterized by tiny vesicles or blisters on the skin, that when open, leave a honey colored fluid that crusts on the inflamed skin. Impetigo is caused by the bacteria, staph or strep, and methicilllin resistant staph may also cause impetigo.

Why do we see more impetigo during the summer months?  The infection can be triggered by kids scratching their skin due to bug bites or rashes like poison ivy.  You’ve seen it…kids will scratch these areas and now they’re more susectible to infection.

The skin is broken and the bacteria from their hands (yes even when they have been washed), can enter through the breaks in the skin and set up an infection. Impetigo is most commonly seen on the face, arms, or legs, as well as in the diaper areas in infants.

Impetigo is spread by touching one area that is infected and then touching another. This is called “auto-inoculation”. In other words it does seem to spread in front of your eyes, especially if you are a “picker/scratcher” and are picking at multiple bites. Suddenly, they all look infected.

If you notice a bite that starts to look infected and it is only in one area, then the infection may often be treated by using a prescription antibiotic ointment. If the impetigo involves multiple areas, it may be necessary to use an oral antibiotic to treat the infection.  Your doctor will be able to decide whether an oral antibiotic is necessary.

I also have parents make sure that the child’s nails are trimmed, which will help reduce breaking the skin while scratching.  I also have the child use an antibacterial soap for a few days for their baths and showers. Again, good hand washing is important to prevent spreading the infection, to different parts of the body.

Impetigo has such a classic appearance that once you have seen it you will know it too! Just try to keep the itching, picking and scratching at bay and you will see much less impetigo.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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