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Impetigo (im-pet-eye-go) is an infection of the skin caused by bacteria. It is often called school sores because it is common among school children. Impetigo causes sores on the skin, which are usually itchy. The sores may start out as blisters that burst and become weepy, before being covered with a crust.
Impetigo is not usually a serious infection, and should clear up a few days after starting medical treatment. Children with impetigo are very infectious (contagious), but the spread of impetigo can be reduced by practising good hygiene, covering the sores with dressings and keeping your child away from other children until they are no longer infectious.
Parents sometimes worry about impetigo because it can look quite serious, but it is usually a mild infection that is easy to treat.
Impetigo is an infection of the skin caused by staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria. These bacteria can live on the skin, in the throat or nose, or on other parts of the body without causing a problem, but sometimes they can cause an infection such as impetigo. Impetigo can occur on healthy skin, but it usually happens when the skin has already been damaged by a scratch, bite or a disease affecting the skin, such as eczema or chickenpox.
Impetigo is very easily spread, usually through contact with the fluid or crusts of an impetigo sore, which contain the bacteria.
Impetigo can occur even when the skin is kept clean, and it is not a sign of poor hygiene or bad parenting. Impetigo is more common in the hotter months.
If your child has signs and symptoms of impetigo, take them to see a GP. The doctor will make sure the sores are impetigo.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic medicine in the form of a cream, ointment, tablets or syrup. Give these to your child as directed, and make sure you complete the course of antibiotics.
If your child gets impetigo repeatedly your doctor may do a nose swab to test for bacteria in the nose. Your child may need antibiotics, which are delivered into the nose, to prevent further instances of impetigo.
Take your child back to the GP if:
The following strategies may help reduce the chances of your child catching impetigo from another child, or reduce spread of impetigo if your child has it.
Will my child’s impetigo sores scar?
If your child does not scratch and cause bleeding, almost all impetigo lesions will heal without leaving any scarring.
How long do I need to keep my child away from child care?
As impetigo is very infectious, it is important to keep your child home until 24 hours after you start medical treatment. When your child returns to child care, make sure you completely cover with dressings any sores that other children might come into contact with.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine department and Centre for Community Child Health, in collaboration with Child and Youth Health Services Adelaide. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed September 2020.
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