Impetigo is an infection of the skin caused by bacteria. It is spread by direct contact with the lesions or nasal discharge of an infected person and is more common in children than adults. There are two types of the disease, neither of which are serious, the infection is caused by strep and staph bacteria and is easily cured with a course of antibiotics.
Types of the disease
There are two types of impetigo –
Non-bullous Impetigo is caused by both strep and staph bacteria. It appear initially as little red bumps similar to the bites of an insect and then develops into small blisters that gradually form scabs that have a yellow brown colored crust on the surface. This process takes about a week and the face is usually the first place to be affected especially the nose. The symptoms may spread to the arms and legs as well but this is not always the case.
Bullous Impetigo is only caused by the staph bacteria and is the less common form of the infection. In this case the bacteria causes thin blisters to appear, as it makes the upper layer of the skin come away from the layers below and the resulting gap fills with a clear yellow fluid. The blisters in bullous impetigo tend to appear on the buttocks and torso of the infected person and are delicate and easily burst leaving a raw patch of skin which will scab over with a dark crust.
The disease rarely causes scars but it is important not to pick at the scabs or blisters, even though they will be very itchy as you will damage the skin further which may result in lasting scars. Children are much more likely to get impetigo than adults, although when it does appear in adults they tend to be living in close quarters or in regular contact such as in an army barracks or a sport such as wrestling.
How do you catch the disease?
The bacteria that causes the disease on the skin without doing any damage, they need and access point such as a cut or graze to get under your skin. You can catch the infection simply by touching things that an infected person has touched if you have a skin lesion that the bacteria can get in through. It is important to wash your hands regularly and cover up even the smallest of cuts if you are in contact with someone who has impetigo in order to avoid getting it yourself. Symptoms are not visible until at least four days after the initial infection and you will be contagious during this time and so able to pass the infection on further. It is thought that children are more often affected as their immune systems are still developing.
Treatments and possible complications
Very mild infections may not need treatment at all just scrupulous hand washing and hygiene to stop the bacteria from spreading.
Antibiotics are used to treat impetigo and may be taken orally or by applying cream directly to the skin. If you are taking an oral course it is important to tell the doctor or pharmacist if you are on any other medication or have any allergies, and always finish the complete course of tablets even if your rash has cleared up.
Impetigo very rarely has any further complications, but if they do occur they can be serious.
Scarlet fever or scarlatina is a full body rash that is delicate and pink and may be accompanied with fever and vomiting
Cellulitis occurs when the infection gets deeper into the skin and affects cells lower down than the epidermis. This can be very painful and present itself as inflamed red skin and fever along with the pain
Septicemia is an infection of bacteria in the blood stream and is very serious. It is characterized by dizziness and confusion, vomiting and perhaps fast breathing and should be treated at a hospital immediately
Impetigo is the most common childhood skin infection in the north of the USA, Canada and northern Europe and is very rarely more than an inconvenience, however it spreads very easily so it is important to isolate sufferers and take great care not to pass the infection on to others.