Impetigo is a contagious bacterial skin infection that often appears around the nose, mouth, and ears. More than 90 percent of impetigo cases are caused by staphyloccus, or “staph,” bacteria, while the rest are caused by streptococcus bacteria (which also are responsible for “strep” throat and scarlet fever). If staph bacteria are to blame, the infection may cause blisters filled with clear fluid. These can break easily, leaving a raw, glistening area that soon forms a scab with a honey colored crust. By contrast, infections with strep bacteria usually are not associated with blisters, but they do cause crusts over larger sores and ulcers.
Impetigo needs to be treated with antibiotics, either topically or by mouth, and your pediatrician may order a culture in the lab to determine which bacteria are causing the rash. Make sure your child takes the medication for the full prescribed course, or the impetigo could return.
One other important point to keep in mind: Impetigo is contagious until the rash clears, or until at least two days of antibiotics have been given and there is evidence of improvement. Your child should avoid close contact with other children during this period, and you should avoid touching the rash. If you or other family members do come in contact with it, wash your hands and the exposed site thoroughly with soap and water. Also, keep the infected child’s washcloths and towels separate from those of other family members.
The bacteria that cause impetigo thrive in breaks in the skin. The best ways to prevent this rash are to keep your child’s fingernails clipped and clean and to teach him not to scratch minor skin irritations. When he does have a scrape, cleanse it with soap and water, and apply an antibiotic cream or ointment. Be careful not to use washcloths or towels that have been used by someone else who has an active skin infection.
When certain types of strep bacteria cause impetigo, a rare but serious complication called glomerulonephritis can develop. This disease injures the kidney and may cause high blood pressure and blood to pass in the urine. Therefore, if you notice any blood or dark brown color in your child’s urine, let your pediatrician know so he can evaluate it and order further tests if needed.