What is impetigo?

Impetigo (im-pa-TIE-go) is an itchy, sometimes painful, skin infection.

Who gets impetigo?

Impetigo usually happens to children between ages 2 and 6. Older children and adults can also get it.

You may also be at higher risk if you:

  • Live in a tropical climate, with hot, humid summers and mild winters.
  • Have a scabies infection.
  • Do activities or sports where cuts and scrapes are common.
  • Live in close contact or crowded situations. Infections often happen to people living in the same house or children in day care.

How does someone get impetigo?

When you get a cut, bite or scratch that opens the skin, bacteria can enter and cause an impetigo infection. But impetigo can infect the skin even if it’s not broken or punctured.

Impetigo happens more often in warmer months when children are outside more.

Where does impetigo occur?

Typically, the first signs of impetigo are sores and blisters on the mouth and nose. Impetigo can also appear on the legs and arms.

What is bullous impetigo?

Bullous impetigo is a rare type of impetigo. It has larger blisters that don’t break open as easily. It often appears on the neck, torso, armpits or groin.

How common is impetigo?

Impetigo is the most common skin infection in kids ages 2 to 5. It happens much less in adults. Every year, Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that causes impetigo, causes 11 million skin and soft tissue infections.

What causes impetigo?

The main cause of impetigo is a bacterial infection. The bacteria usually enters the skin through a cut, scrape, rash or insect bite.

Most of the time, the cause is the Staphylococcus aureus (“staph” bacteria). Sometimes, group A Streptococcus bacteria can cause it. This type of bacteria also leads to strep throat and fever.

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

Is impetigo contagious?

Impetigo is mild but highly contagious. You can spread impetigo by coming into contact with the sores or mucus or nasal discharge from someone who has it. People can also spread impetigo by sharing items such as towels, clothing or other personal items with someone who’s infected.

When do impetigo symptoms start?

Typically, once the infection happens, symptoms occur within three days. Scratching the sores can spread the infection. Symptoms first start around the mouth and nose.

What are the symptoms of impetigo?

Symptoms of impetigo include:

  • One or more pus-filled blisters that burst easily, causing red, raw skin.
  • Itchy blisters containing fluid (yellow or tan) that seeps out and forms a crust.
  • A rash that spreads.
  • Skin lesions (wounds) on the lips, nose, ears, arms and legs. The lesions can spread to other parts of the body.
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the infected area.

If you or your child has impetigo caused by staph bacteria, you may notice:

  • Reddish skin surrounding red blisters, full of liquid or pus that eventually looks cloudy.
  • Blisters that burst easily and leak.
  • Raw, shiny areas that scab over with a yellow/brown crust.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/22/2020.

References

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