Impetigo is a skin condition that causes the appearance of lesions with typical characteristics. Would you know how to recognize it?
How can impetigo be recognized?
Impetigo is a bacterial inflammatory skin condition.
Lesions from impetigo are mostly observed on the face (often around the mouth and nose) or on the hands. They typically present themselves in the form of blisters that may ooze, forming a rather characteristic yellowish, golden or brownish crust. These crusts usually cover a reddish ulceration and flake off (scaling of the skin). The lesions may or may not be painful.
Other areas if the body can also be affected, including the torso, buttocks, arms and legs.
What causes impetigo?
Most often, impetigo is caused by golden staph (Staphylococcus aureus) and Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci. Broken skin (e.g., cracked skin, scrapes, cuts, insect bites, etc.) are portals of entry for bacteria. Impetigo usually appears 7 to 10 days after bacteria has penetrated into the body.
The infection is more prevalent in children under the age of 10, and particularly those between the ages of 2 and 5. This is partly explained by the fact that they have close interactions with one another. However, older individuals, including adults, can also be infected.
There are predisposing factors of impetigo. Here are some examples:
- exposure to very high temperatures or humidity
- a habit of licking one’s lips and around the mouth
- having a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis
- a weakened immune system, especially due to an illness (e.g., diabetes or HIV/AIDS) or to certain drugs (e.g., cortisone or chemotherapeutic agents).
How can impetigo be prevented?
Impetigo is contagious and spreads quite easily. Additionally, it can be self-inoculated, which means that a person can contaminate him/herself by scratching, for instance.
It is not uncommon for several members of a same family (or community) to be affected simultaneously due to the contagious nature of the infection. Therefore, it is important to avoid kissing and skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Contamination can also occur through objects such as a washcloth, towel, pillow, razor, etc. It is important not to share potentially contaminated personal objects.
Hygiene measures are key in avoiding the spread of infection. Frequent handwashing with soap and water for 20 to 30 seconds each time, is an effective way to prevent infection. It is also possible to disinfect objects or surfaces likely to have been contaminated, using a product designed for this purpose.
Additionally, touching and scratching lesions should be avoided, as this can worsen the infection―a major challenge for small children.
How do you determine if it is impetigo?
Although the lesions of impetigo have a typical appearance that is easy to recognize to a trained eye, it’s always safer to obtain a diagnosis from a doctor. The appropriate treatment can then be initiated.
A simple visual exam is generally sufficient. Nonetheless, the doctor may want to take a sample of the secretions using a cotton swab to confirm the diagnosis and identify the bacteria responsible for the infection.
How is impetigo treated?
The treatment of impetigo depends on the severity and extent of the infection. In some cases, a topical treatment (application of a cream or ointment) may be enough. In other cases, an oral antibiotic therapy will be used. Regardless of the treatment that is used, it is important to closely follow the recommended dosing instructions if it is to be effective.
It is imperative to follow the treatment for the prescribed length of time, even if the lesions disappear before the end of treatment. Impetigo tends to return when it is not adequately treated.
If your child is affected by impetigo, encourage him/her not to scratch. It may be wise to cut fingernails short and to discourage him/her from chewing them. It is advisable to clean the lesions daily with the appropriate product. Your pharmacist can help you with this.
Staff at the daycare or school frequented by your child should be notified that he/she has impetigo. They will inform you of the measures to be taken in their environment to avoid contagion.
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about impetigo and its treatment.