Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial (Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes) infection that typically occurs after a cut, bite, or sting has been scratched and becomes infected. The infection most often occurs among infants and children, but can also affect adults.
Signs of impetigo
- A small group of red blisters that break, becoming a damp area which oozes fluid and pus. The blisters typically appear on the face, but may also be found on the legs and arms.
- Honey-colored crusted areas that form soon after the blisters break
What causes impetigo?
Physical contact with another person who has the infection is the usual cause. It is also possible to acquire the infection from dirty towels or clothing used by someone with impetigo.
What if you do nothing?
Impetigo rarely becomes a serious problem for adults and adolescents, but since it is highly contagious, it should be treated.
Home remedies for impetigo
If only a few small sores appear, the following self-care measures can help clear up impetigo.
- Remove the scabs. Dip a clean washcloth in warm water and gently rub the scabs until they come off. Then gently wash the entire area with water and soap or chlorhexidine (Hibiclens), an antimicrobial cleanser.
- Use an antimicrobial ointment. After washing, apply the prescription ointment retapamulin (Altabax) twice a day for five days. If necessary, after applying the ointment, cover the entire area with gauze.
- Contain the infection. To keep the bacteria from spreading, don’t touch any part of your body after you have touched an area with impetigo. Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol sanitizer. Also, do not let other people use your towel or washcloth. Change bed linens daily, and wash them with bleach using the hot water cycle. Dry them on high heat. If you have impetigo on your face or nose, only use disposable tissues to blow your nose, and dispose of them right away.
- Take care when shaving. Avoid shaving over facial impetigo sores. Germs may be harbored in razors, so use single-use disposable razors. And do not share your razor with anyone.
How to prevent impetigo
Keep clean. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Don’t scratch insect bites or pick at scabs or skin irritations. Also, be careful not to share combs, towels, or hairbrushes. Wash all cuts and scrapes with soap and water.
When to call your doctor
Contact your physician if you or your child develops an infection accompanied by a fever of 100?F or higher. Also contact your physician if impetigo covers an area greater than two inches in diameter, if the infection keeps spreading, or if the infection fails to improve significantly within three to four days despite home treatment efforts.
What your doctor will do
After an inspection of infected areas, a topical antibiotic (mupirocin) or oral antibiotic may be prescribed.