Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection which causes sores and blisters. It's very common and affects mainly children.
Impetigo that affects otherwise healthy skin is referred to as 'primary impetigo'.
If the infection is the result of another underlying skin condition, such as atopic eczema, it's referred to as 'secondary impetigo'.
There are two types of impetigo:
- bullous impetigo, which causes large, painless, fluid-filled blisters
- non-bullous impetigo, which is more contagious than bullous impetigo and causes sores that quickly rupture (burst) to leave a yellow-brown crust.
Should I see my doctor?
Speak to your doctor if you or your child has symptoms of impetigo. Impetigo is not usually serious, but it can sometimes be confused with other skin conditions such as cellulitis, contact dermatitis and insect bites. Your doctor may want to rule these out.
Impetigo usually gets better on its own, without the need for treatment, within two to three weeks. However, antibiotic creams are usually recommended because the infection spreads easily.
Most people are no longer contagious after 48 hours of treatment, or once their sores have dried and healed.
To minimise the risk of impetigo spreading, it's also advisable to:
- avoid touching the sores
- wash your hands regularly
- not share flannels, sheets or towels
- keep children out of nursery, playgroup or school until their sores have dried up.
Who is affected?
Impetigo usually affects children. This is due to environments, such as schools and nurseries, where the infection can easily be spread.
Impetigo can also affect adults, especially when people are living in a confined environment, such as army barracks.
Non-bullous impetigo is the most common type of impetigo, accounting for more than 70% of cases.
Complications of impetigo tend to be rare. However, sometimes the infection can spread to the lymph nodes (lymphadenitis), or to a deeper layer of skin (cellulitis).
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your child's impetigo, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Source: NHS Choices (UK)
Last reviewed: July 2015