Impetigo is a contagious skin infection generally caused by streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria. It usually affects children under 10 years of age and is more common in the summer months. Bacteria may enter through breaks in the skin caused by scratches, abrasions, eczema or insect bites. The infection develops thereafter.
Time between exposure to the bacteria and the first symptoms is 7 to 10 days. Typically, the first sign is a rash made up of a cluster of tiny blisters that contain a clear liquid. These tiny blisters rapidly fill with pus and eventually rupture. This is followed by the forming of a yellowish crust. Impetigo commonly occurs on the face (around the mouth, nose and eyes) but can also affect trunk, hands and buttocks. The appearance of lesions may be accompanied by fever.
Impetigo requires prompt attention and treatment as a result of its very contagious nature. If the lesions are not too spread out, the pharmacist may recommend local treatment with an over-the-counter product. However, if the area of involvement is large and the lesions have spread or, if there are multiple infection sites, it is recommended that you consult a physician. The physician may then take a sample, using a cotton swab, to identify the bacteria responsible or will immediately prescribe an antibiotic therapy. Once the infection is diagnosed, the child should be excluded from school or day care until the last of the crusts have disappeared or until 24 hours after treatment has been initiated.
The lesions should be disinfected with a mild soap or antiseptic lotion. Treatment involves the application of an antibiotic cream or ointment directly on the lesions or oral antibiotics or a combination of both. Lesions may also be covered with a dressing. To prevent the infection from spreading, washing the infected person's clothing, cutting their finger nails and bathing them regularly is recommended. Prevent the infected person from thumb sucking or nail biting. If you are called upon to touch the lesions to apply a treatment, it is important that you properly wash your hands after contact. If everything proceeds accordingly, the crusts should disappear within a matter of 4 to 5 days.