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Impetigo - baby with rash on his arm

Impetigo - baby with rash on his arm
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2-minute read

Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection which causes sores and blisters. It's very common and affects mainly children.

Impetigo is caused by the Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria. It is contagious and can be very dangerous for newborn babies. It is important to keep children who have impetigo away from babies and they should not go to school or child care until treatment has started.

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.

Treating impetigo

Impetigo is usually treated with an antibiotic cream. If it doesn’t clear up, your doctor might give you an antibiotic to swallow.

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 face cloths, sheets or towels
  • keep children out of nursery, playgroup or school until their sores have dried up

Who is affected?

Impetigo usually affects children between 2 and 6. 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).

Should I keep my child home from school?

Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses, including impetigo, and their recommended exclusion periods.

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).

Last reviewed: August 2017

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