Skin infections are fairly common throughout life and can affect almost anyone. Most infections are self-limited and resolve on their own, especially in healthy individuals without any other health conditions or weakened immune systems. Some infections, however, can spread or require medical attention. Skin infections may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.
Impetigo is a skin infection that is caused by a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus, a type of "staph" infection, usually in warm and humid conditions. It can also be caused by either another bacterium called streptococcus group A, or "strep," or by both bacteria. It is also called pyoderma and impetigo contagiosium. It usually affects children under the age of five years, but it can also affect older children and adults. It starts out when the bacteria get into healthy skin through scrapes, minor cuts, cracks of dry skin, bug bites or when skin is inflamed from another skin condition like eczema, psoriasis and such. It is highly contagious and can spread through close contact, within family members or within sports team members.
What are the symptoms?
Impetigo causes red bumps and blisters with yellow or gold crust on the skin of the face, arms, or legs. Sometimes the blisters become painful sores that take a long time to heal. Presence of fever, unrelenting pain, severe redness and swelling, or loss of appetite are worrisome signs that need medical attention.
What is the treatment?
Diagnosis of impetigo is through clinical exam and treatment options include topical creams, ointments and oral antibiotics. Bacterial culture and sensitivity swab is sometimes done to establish the identity of culprit and ensure response to the chosen treatment plan.
Topical antibiotics in an ointment or cream form, like mupirocin (Bactroban) or retapamulin (Altabax), are sufficient for superficial or limited infections. Oral antibiotics are prescribed for widespread infection or if the infections is deeper or if it is not responding to topical treatment. It is important to complete the prescribed treatment regimen and duration even if your skin clears up sooner, to prevent recurrence.
How do I prevent impetigo?
Take the following precautions to prevent spread of impetigo and other skin infections.
●Wash your hands with soap and water regularly or use alcohol based rubs if water is not available. Do not share personal items, such as hair brushes or combs, makeup brushes, towels, clothes, or bedding especially when infection is active.
●Wash and dry towels and bed linens on high heat setting.
●Cover up the infected parts of your skin to prevent spread of infection. Accidental touching or scratching of infected skin before touching unaffected skin can cause spread of infection to other parts of your body.
●Always use disposable tissue paper to blow your nose, cough or sneeze, especially when you have impetigo on your nose or face, and wash hands immediately after.
For recurrent infections, or for impetigo that is worsening despite treatment, contact your dermatologist. You might have another skin problem that looks like impetigo or you have underlying skin disorder like eczema that is interferring with your skn's ability to heal.