Impetigo

People experience a number of rashes throughout their lifetime, mostly as children. While it may seem scary to some, most rashes are easily treated and leave no lasting evidence of their presence. Here is a complete guide with all the essential information for dealing with one of those rashes - impetigo.

Causes

Impetigo is a very common, but highly contagious, skin infection. It is caused by streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria. It can also be caused my methicillin-resistant staph aureus, or MRSA for short, and is becoming more and more common.

The skin itself is usually an effective barrier against infection, but the tiniest break in the skin can allow bacteria to enter and grow, causing infection. Often, impetigo results after certain aflictions, such as:

It is also possible for impetigo to occur on healthy, unbroken skin. Impetigo is most common in infants and children living with poor living conditions or those with a lack of sanitation, but can also affect adults.

Symptoms

Impetigo is characterized by a blistered rash. The rash may have pus-filled blisters that are easy to pop and leave a reddish-colored, raw-looking base.

  • The fluid in the blisters may be yellow or amber colored, and the blisters may ooze and crust over.
  • The rash is typically itchy and scratching it can spread the blisters if someone touches another area of the body after scratching.
  • The lesions are usually found on the face, lips, arms or legs.
  • Swollen lymph nodes may be felt in the area near the rash.

Typically, just seeing the rash is enough for diagnosis, but with MRSA becoming more common, doctors may culture the fluid in the blisters to see what bacteria is causing the impetigo. If caused by MRSA, there are different medications used than if it were caused by another type of bacteria.

Treatment

Treatment for impetigo is very simple. A mild case of impetigo can be treated by applying a prescription antibiotic cream to the lesions. More severe cases will require oral antibiotics in addition to the antibacterial cream.

Impetigo caused by MRSA may be harder to treat, but treatment is still possible. There are some medications that can treat MRSA, although these are usually administered by intravenous (IV) line in a hospital. Often times, simply lancing the blisters in a doctor's office is enough to treat impetigo caused by MRSA, but only a doctor can make that determination, so it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible if any blisters appear.

No matter what bacteria are causing the impetigo, the skin should always be washed gently several times a day with antibacterial soap and water to remove crusts and drainage. Skin should never be scrubbed vigorously because it can cause the blisters to spread and damage the surrounding healthy skin. Sores heal very slowly but they do not often scar.

If left untreated scarring can result due to the deepening infection. Kidney failure as a result of the spreading of a streptococcus infection is also possible if impetigo is left untreated. The most common complication associated with impetigo is spreading the rash to other parts of the body or other people by scratching the rash and then touching other skin or other people.

Prevention

Prevention of impetigo is fairly simple. By following these tips, people can prevent most infections, including impetigo.

  • Good hygiene goes a long way toward preventing infections of all kinds. Frequent hand washing or the use of hand sanitizer will prevent the spread of infections.
  • Any cuts or scrapes should be thoroughly cleaned and treated with over-the-counter, antibiotic cream.
  • Never share towels, wash clothes, razors or other personal items with anyone, even family members.
  • If someone already has impetigo they need to use a clean wash cloths and towels each time they clean or touch lesions.
  • Hands should be washed with antibacterial soap and warm water after touching lesions and before touching anything else.

Impetigo in Children

Impetigo is most common in children, particularly those who live in areas with poor sanitation. Impetigo most often affects pre-school and school age children, but it can affect infants and teenagers as well.

In children, impetigo can occur after a rash, like poison ivy, when a child scratches too hard or too often. This can result in a break in the skin, allowing bacteria to enter the skin causing an infection.

Treatment for impetigo in children is the same as adults. The challenge with impetigo in children is keeping the lesions clean and preventing the children from scratching the rash as it can be quite itchy. Rashes on the body can be easily covered with gauze pads to prevent the child from scratching and to keep sores from oozing onto surrounding skin, but it is a bit difficult to cover the blisters on the face, which is where they commonly occur. Parents will have to be very diligent to prevent the rash from spreading.

Impetigo can be irritating, but it is very treatable. With good hygiene and proper care, impetigo can be prevented or treated easily and quickly, and leave no lasting effects.

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