If you have a young child in daycare or preschool, you’ve probably heard of the skin infection known as impetigo.
It’s a common and contagious bacterial contamination that typically affects kids ages two to five, although anyone can get it.
Impetigo can be uncomfortable and unsightly. Here’s what you need to know if you think your child might have it:
Signs and symptoms
The infection typically starts as “red sores on the face, especially around the nose and mouth, and on hands and feet,” according to Dr. Dina Kulik, a pediatric health expert and founder of kidcrew.com.
The sores will quickly rupture and ooze for a few days, developing “honey-coloured crusts.”
“Sometimes, the lesions leak clear or yellow fluid,” said Kulik.
Dr. Jeffrey Pernica, head of the infectious diseases division with McMaster University’s department of pediatrics, considers impetigo to be a “mild” infection.
In his experience, impetigo can begin as “bumps that then turn into small blisters.”
“It doesn’t cause pain, but the areas of impetigo can spread if not treated,” he said.
What causes it?
The culprit behind this infection is typically bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (commonly referred to as staph) or Streptococcus pyogenes (known as strep), according to Kulik.
“ live on the surface of the skin enter the skin where the skin is broken,” she said.
“The bacteria that cause impetigo often enter the skin through a small skin injury such as a cut, insect bite or rash.”
Eczema can have a similar effect.
“Less commonly, it can also occur on healthy skin,” she said.
Since it’s highly contagious, the infection is spread easily throughout schools and daycare settings.
“It can spread to other people if they touch the lesions or by touching things that the infected person recently touched,” said Pernica.
Thankfully, unlike the flu, it’s more common during the summer months because “bacteria thrive in warm and humid environments,” he said.
How to treat it
Antibiotics are “very effective” in treating impetigo, Kulik said.
“Most cases … will respond very well to topical antibiotics applied for seven days.”
It’s unlikely, but if an infection is more widespread, growing to multiple parts of the body, or if the child also has a fever, oral antibiotics are recommended.
Pills can also be prescribed if sores appear on the face, Pernica said.
Impetigo typically isn’t dangerous, and the sores will generally heal without scarring.
However, if left untreated, “a child may develop bigger or more sores, and the infection can lead to more serious infection, such as a blood infection,” Kulik said.
In rare cases, it can lead to more severe complications.
“If the impetigo is caused by Group A Streptococcus … rheumatic fever or kidney problems can occur after the infection,” said Pernica.
The best ways to avoid it
As with most bacterial infections, the best way to avoid catching impetigo is practicing good hand hygiene.
“Wash your hands frequently. Gently wash any cuts, rashes or bites with mild soap and running water and then cover lightly with gauze or a bandage,” said Kulik.
“Minimizing open skin can decrease the risk of impetigo by healing rashes, such as eczema, and minimizing the scratching of bites.”
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If someone in your house catches it, be sure to “wash clothes, linens and towels every day,” she said.
“Don’t share them with anyone else in the family,” Kulik explained.
For Pernica, there’s really only one way to steer clear: “Avoid being in close contact with people who have impetigo.”
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