Impetigo is a common and highly contagious skin infection that causes sores and blisters. It's not usually serious and often improves within a week of treatment or within a few weeks without treatment.
Impetigo is the most common skin infection in young children in the UK, but it can affect people of all ages.
Symptoms of impetigo
There are two types of impetigo:
non-bullous impetigo – the most common type
The symptoms of both types are described below.
The symptoms of non-bullous impetigo begin with the appearance of red sores – usually around the nose and mouth but other areas of the face and the limbs can also be affected.
The sores quickly burst leaving behind thick, golden crusts typically around 2cm across. The appearance of these crusts is sometimes likened to cornflakes stuck to the skin.
After the crusts dry, they leave a red mark that usually fades without scarring. The time it takes for the redness to disappear can vary between a few days and a few weeks.
The sores aren't painful, but they may be itchy. It's important not to touch or scratch the sores because this can spread the infection to other parts of the body, and to other people.
Other symptoms, such as a high temperature (fever) and swollen glands are rare but can occur in more severe cases.
The symptoms of bullous impetigo begin with the appearance of fluid-filled blisters (bullae) which usually occur on the central part of the body between the waist and neck, or on the arms and legs. The blisters are usually about 1-2cm across.
The blisters may quickly spread, before bursting after several days to leave a yellow crust that usually heals without leaving any scarring.
The blisters may be painful and the area of skin surrounding them may be itchy. As with non-bullous impetigo, it's important not to touch or scratch the affected areas of the skin.
Symptoms of fever and swollen glands are more common in cases of bullous impetigo.
Causes of impetigo
Impetigo occurs when the skin becomes infected with bacteria, usually either Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes.
The bacteria can infect the skin in two main ways:
through a break in otherwise healthy skin – such as a cut, insect bite or other injury – this is known as primary impetigo
through skin damaged by another underlying skin condition, such as head lice, scabies, or eczema – this is known as secondary impetigo
The bacteria can be spread easily through close contact with someone who has the infection, such as through direct physical contact, or by sharing towels or flannels.
As the condition doesn't cause any symptoms until four to 10 days after initial exposure to the bacteria, it's often easily spread to others unintentionally.
Children and people with diabetes or a weakened immune system– either due to a condition such as HIV or a treatment such as chemotherapy – are most at risk of developing impetigo.
Impetigo usually gets better without treatment in around two to three weeks.
However, treatment is often recommended because it can reduce the length of the illness to around seven to 10 days and can lower the risk of the infection being spread to others.
Fusidic Acid Cream 15g contains the active ingredient fusidic acid, which is an antibacterial agent used to treat a number of bacterial skin infections.
To read the patient information leaflet for this product please click here: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/medicine/29266
How does it work?
It works in the bacterial cell by preventing the production of essential proteins necessary for the growth and survival of the bacteria. It is effective against several bacterial species and used in the treatment of infections such as impetigo (characterised by blistering and yellowish-brown crusting of the skin), whitlow (paronchya) and inflammation of hair follicles (sycosis). It is also used to treat eczema or dermatitis that has become infected (secondary infections).
Preventing the spread of impetigo
During treatment, it's important to take precautions to minimise the risk of impetigo spreading to other people or to other areas of the body.
Most people are no longer contagious after 48 hours of treatment or once their sores have dried and healed. It's important to stay away from work, school, nursery or playgroup until this point.
The advice below can also help to prevent the spread of the infection:
don't share flannels, sheets or towels with anyone who has impetigo – wash them at a high temperature after use
wash the sores with soap and water and cover them loosely with a gauze bandage or clothing
avoid touching or scratching the sores, or letting others touch them – it may help to ensure your nails are kept clean and short
avoid contact with newborn babies, preparing food, playing contact sports, or going to the gym – until the risk of infection has passed
wash your hands frequently – particularly after touching infected skin
washable toys should also be washed – wipe non-washable soft toys thoroughly with a cloth that has been wrung out in detergent and warm water and allowed to dry completely
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