Impetigo is a common skin infection, usually caused by the Staphylococcus aureus, or “staph” bacteria. Some cases are caused by Group A streptococcus bacteria, a type of bacteria that can also lead to strep throat and scarlet fever.

Certain strains of strep bacteria that cause impetigo can lead to the development of the inflammatory kidney disease glomerulonephritis. This disease can cause high blood pressure and blood in the urine.

What are the symptoms of impetigo?

Impetigo is a fairly mild but highly contagious disease. Symptoms include:

  • One or more pus-filled blisters that can burst easily and leave behind red, raw skin
  • Itchy blisters that contain yellow or tan fluid that seeps and forms a crust
  • A rash that often spreads
  • Skin lesions, usually on lips, nose, ears, arms, and legs. These can spread to other areas of the body.
  • Swollen lymph nodes close to the area of the infection

In cases of impetigo caused by staph bacteria, symptoms include reddish skin surrounding red blisters that are full of clear liquid or pus that eventually will look cloudy. These blisters can easily burst and leak. Once broken, there is a raw, shiny area that will scab over with a light yellow/brown crust.

Once an infection occurs, it can take up to three days before symptoms occur. The sores can itch; scratching them usually spreads the infection.

Who can get impetigo?

Impetigo usually affects children between the ages of two and six, although older children and adults can also get it.

How does someone get impetigo?

When the skin is opened or punctured from a cut, bite, or scratch, the bacteria can get under the skin, which can lead to infection. Impetigo can also infect the skin even when it is not broken open. The infection occurs more often in warmer months, when children are typically outside more.

How does impetigo spread to others?

Impetigo can be spread by coming into contact with the sores or any mucus/nasal discharge from someone who is infected. It can also spread by sharing household items, such as towels, clothing, or other personal care products, with someone who has the disease.

Impetigo is contagious until the rash disappears, the scabs fall off, or the patient has completed at least two full days of antibiotics. Children are prone to scratching open their scabs, and are at risk of re-infection.

How is impetigo diagnosed?

The doctor can usually make a diagnosis of impetigo based on the appearance of the sores. The doctor may take a tiny sample of skin to send to a laboratory to see which bacteria is causing the disease. The sample may lead to a sensitivity test, which will help show the best antibiotic to use.

If there is any blood or odd color in the urine, tell your doctor right away.

How is impetigo treated?

Impetigo is treated with antibiotics, either oral (taken by mouth) or topical (applied to the skin as a cream or ointment). Antibiotic treatments include topical mupirocin (Bactroban® or Centany®) ointment, or oral antibiotics such as cephalosporins, clindamycin (Cleocin®), and sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim™).

If you are diagnosed with impetigo, here are some treatment tips:

  • If the doctor prescribes antibiotics, be sure to take them for the full length of time prescribed by the doctor. Otherwise, the infection can come back.
  • Gently wash your skin several times a day with an antibacterial soap to remove crusts and drainage.
  • Try not to touch the rash. If you should accidentally touch it, be sure to wash your hands and the exposed area with mild soap and water. If your child has impetigo, keep him or her away from other children until he or she is treated.

Can impetigo be prevented?

Staying clean and maintaining good health are two of the easiest ways to prevent infection. Some tips to help prevent impetigo include the following:

  • Practice good hygiene, such as clipping your fingernails on a regular basis.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Bathe daily or as often as possible (in cases of children with eczema or sensitive skin).
  • If your child does get a scratch, cut, or  wound, make sure he or she does not scratch.
  • If your child gets a cut, clean it with soap and water and then apply an antibiotic cream or ointment.

What is the outlook for someone who gets impetigo?

Impetigo is easily cured, but the condition can return in small children. The sores usually take some time to completely heal, but the infection rarely leaves scars.


© Copyright 1995-2017 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

    This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/22/2017…#15134