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Impetigo

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read
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Impetigo is a mild bacterial infection causing a red area of skin with tiny blisters (vesicles). These may burst to form open sores and a honey-yellow or brown crust. It often arises from damaged skin - from eczema, from an insect bite, or around the nose and mouth after a cold. This is a very common infection that can clear up by itself, but as it usually affects children and is very contagious, most people choose to have it treated with antibiotics. Staphylococcus aureus and streptococcus pyogenes, two bacteria commonly found in the nose and not causing any harm to healthy skin, are the most likely suspects.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

This infection is contagious. As the full name, impetigo contagiosa suggests, this infection spreads very easily - to other parts of the body and to your nearest and dearest. Keep a strict household - don't share towels or bedding, wash hands regularly, and keep open sores covered with bandages. You stop being infective after 48 hours of treatment or after all infected areas have dried up. You should consider staying away from work during this time, avoid preparing food for others and avoid shared areas, (i.e., gyms) or contact sports.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

There are no treatments available from the pharmacy that will treat impetigo effectively. Impetigo requires treatment with prescription-only medicines prescribed by your doctor. These may include antibiotic creams to be applied topically or systemically with antibiotic tablets, capsules, or suspensions.

Am I fit for work?

You should consider being off work for 48 hours after treatment has started or - if you do not get treatment - once the infection has dried out. It is unlikely you feel unwell or even uncomfortable with this condition, but absence from work is to avoid passing this contagious infection on to co-workers.

When should I see my doctor?

Book an urgent appointment with your doctor, who will assess this and may give you antibiotic cream or tablets. Occasionally, impetigo can go beyond the topmost layers of skin, causing cellulitis or ecthyma, where ulcers develop, so it is worth getting checked if treatment is not helping or your condition is worsening.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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