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Impetigo: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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Impetigo is a common, highly contagious skin infection caused by bacteria. It most commonly affects children, but can occur in people of all ages. Impetigo is characterized by red, itchy sores that break open and leak a clear fluid or pus. The sores then crust over with a yellow or honey-colored scab.


The most common cause of impetigo is Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria that lives on the skin of most people. The bacteria can enter the skin through a break in the skin, such as a cut, scrape, or insect bite. Impetigo can also be spread through contact with the fluid or scabs from an infected person’s sores.


The most common symptoms of impetigo are:

  • Red, itchy sores
  • Sores that break open and leak a clear fluid or pus
  • Crusts that form over the sores
  • Sores that are usually found on the face, especially around the nose and mouth, but can also occur on other parts of the body


A doctor can usually diagnose impetigo by examining the sores. In some cases, a culture of the sores may be taken to confirm the diagnosis.


The most common treatment for impetigo is topical antibiotics, such as mupirocin (Bactroban) or retapamulin (Altabax). These antibiotics are applied to the sores 2-3 times a day. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed in more severe cases.


Impetigo is usually a mild infection that clears up with treatment. However, it can sometimes lead to more serious complications, such as:

  • Cellulitis: A serious infection of the deeper layers of the skin
  • Streptococcus pyogenes infection: This infection can cause scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and kidney disease
  • Glomerulonephritis: A kidney disease that can occur after a streptococcal infection


The best way to prevent impetigo is to practice good hygiene. This includes:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water
  • Keeping your fingernails clean and trimmed
  • Avoiding contact with people who have impetigo
  • Covering any cuts or scrapes with a bandage


FAQs for impetigo

How long does impetigo last?

With treatment, impetigo usually clears up in 7-10 days. However, it can take longer to heal if the infection is severe or if there are complications.

Can impetigo be prevented?

Yes, impetigo can be prevented by practicing good hygiene. This includes washing your hands often with soap and water, keeping your fingernails clean and trimmed, and avoiding contact with people who have impetigo.

Can impetigo spread to other parts of my body?

Yes, impetigo can spread to other parts of your body through contact with the fluid or scabs from an infected sore. It can also spread through contact with contaminated objects, such as towels, clothing, or toys.

What are the signs that impetigo is getting worse?

If you have impetigo, you should see a doctor if:

  • The sores are not healing after 7-10 days of treatment
  • The sores are spreading to other parts of your body
  • The sores are painful or swollen
  • You have a fever or other signs of infection

What are the long-term effects of impetigo?

In most cases, impetigo does not have any long-term effects. However, in rare cases, it can lead to more serious complications, such as cellulitis, streptococcal infection, or glomerulonephritis.

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