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Impetigo is an itchy and sometimes painful infection of the outer layers of skin. It is especially common in young children. The infection is caused by bacteria and is highly contagious. For that reason, children who have impetigo aren't allowed to return to school or daycare until they're no longer contagious – about 24 hours after the start of treatment with antibiotics. Without treatment, impetigo can remain contagious for several weeks.


The first signs of impetigo can usually be seen around the mouth and nose in the form of an itchy reddish rash with small blisters. The blisters are filled with water or pus and burst easily. Once they have burst, yellowish crusts form. These fall off after some time without scarring. As well as on the face, impetigo can occur on the arms and legs.

Illustration: Yellowish crusted-over impetigo blisters – as described in the article

Yellowish crusted-over impetigo blisters

In rare cases, larger blisters develop and don't break open as quickly. This type of impetigo (bullous impetigo) affects the neck and torso, and may be found in the armpits or in the groin area.

The main symptom of impetigo is reddish sores, often around the nose and mouth. The sores quickly rupture, ooze for a few days and then form a honey-colored crust. Sores can spread to other areas of the body through touch, clothing and towels. Itching and soreness are generally mild.


Impetigo is a bacterial infection, usually caused by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus bacteria. These germs can enter your skin in different ways, including through minor cuts or scrapes, a rash or an insect bite.

They spread to other people through skin contact, or through contact with objects that an infected person has touched.

Impetigo is caused by bacteria, usually staphylococci organisms. You might be exposed to the bacteria that cause impetigo when you come into contact with the sores of someone who's infected or with items they've touched — such as clothing, bed linen, towels and even toys.

Risk factors

Age. Impetigo occurs most commonly in children ages 2 to 5.

Close contact. ...

Warm, humid weather. ...

Broken skin. ...

Other health conditions.

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Cellulitis. Cellulitis occurs when the infection spreads to a deeper layer of skin. ...

Guttate psoriasis. ...

Scarlet fever. ...

Septicaemia. ...

Scarring. ...

Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. ...

Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.


The best ways to prevent infection are to stay clean and healthy. Other tips to avoid impetigo include:

Keep hands clean: Wash hands regularly. Use alcohol-based sanitizer if you don’t have soap and water.

Practice good hygiene: Clip your (and your child’s) fingernails regularly to avoid scratching. Sneeze into a tissue and then throw the tissue away. Bathe daily (or as often as possible), especially for children with eczema or sensitive skin.

Avoid scratching: Don’t scratch cuts or wounds. If your child gets a cut, scratch or wound, keep them from scratching it.

Clean wounds: Clean cuts, scrapes and injuries with soap and water. Then put an antibiotic cream or ointment on the wound.

Keep linens clean: Wash underwear, towels and sheets in hot water.