Skin

Updated 28 November 2016

How to treat and prevent impetigo

The skin infection impetigo tends to be more common during warm weather months, and more than three million cases a year occur in the US.

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Impetigo is a contagious skin infection that's preventable and can be treated with antibiotics, the US Food and Drug Administration says.

Two types of bacteria

It's common among kids, but adults can get impetigo, too. The telltale signs are blisters or sores, usually on the face, neck, hands and diaper area.

Impetigo can strike anytime but is more common during warm weather months. More than three million cases a year occur in the United States.

Read: Skin infections spread easily among athletes

It's caused by two types of bacteria that are usually harmless. They can trigger infection when someone suffers a minor cut, scrape or insect bite.

"We typically see impetigo in kids two to six years old, probably because they get more cuts and scrapes and scratch more. And that spreads the bacteria," FDA paediatrician Dr Thomas Smith said in an agency news release.

Symptoms include itchy rash; itchy red sores that fill with fluid and then burst, forming a yellow crust; and fluid-filled blisters. The condition is usually treated with topical or oral antibiotics.

Fairly close contact

Left alone, impetigo often clears up on its own after a few days or weeks, Smith said. It's important to keep the infected area clean and avoid scratching. The problem with leaving it untreated is that it could spread to other areas of the body and to other people.

"To spread impetigo, you need fairly close contact – not casual contact – with the infected person or the objects they touched," Smith said.

Read: Single dose of new antibiotic could cure skin infections

To prevent the spread of impetigo, he recommended cleaning infected areas with soap and water; loosely cover scabs and sores until they heal; gently remove crusty scabs; and wash hands thoroughly after touching infected areas or persons.

Smith also recommended not touching items used by a person with impetigo, such as utensils, clothing, towels, sheets and toys. If you have impetigo, he suggested not scratching and keeping fingernails short so the bacteria can't live under your nails.

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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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