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What You Need To Know About Impetigo

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

At this moment, 111 million children around the world are suffering from impetigo, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But what is impetigo? How serious is it? And what can you do to protect your child?

Let's answer those questions and more.

What Is Impetigo? 

Impetigo is a common and highly contagious bacterial skin infection most often found in infants and young children. However, there are cases when adults contract it as well.  

Unlike other types of mouth rashes, impetigo is caused by two bacteria: Streptococcus and Staphylococcus

The bacteria enter your bloodstream through a cut, insect bite, or anything else that damages the skin. Even a scrape on your skin is enough to expose you to infection.  

Once inside, the bacteria cause an infection in the top layers of the skin. These sores can rupture and ooze a liquid that dries into a yellowish-brown crust on the sore. 

Impetigo Symptoms 

It's important for parents to understand the symptoms and risk factors of impetigo. 

The Mayo Clinic states that parents can recognize the infection by the red sores appearing around the mouth and nose. Other symptoms of this condition include sores on the hands and feet, mild itching, and soreness. 

Impetigo Causes 

Several things can put your child at higher risk for contracting impetigo. Crowded places, such as daycares and schools, are environments where infection can easily spread. That's why you may also hear impetigo referred to as school sores. The Mayo Clinic also notes that children between ages 2 and 5 are most at risk.  

Like many bacterial infections, impetigo prefers warm, humid weather. So it may be more common in the summer months or warm and humid environments. Sports that involve skin contact, such as wrestling, can also increase exposure and risk.  

While the condition most often affects children, adults with diabetes or otherwise compromised immune systems are also at higher risk. 

Fortunately, impetigo is both preventable and treatable. 

Preventing Impetigo 

There are several ways you can limit your child's risk of contracting impetigo, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). First, make sure they take a bath or shower after playing sports. Second, wash their hands with soap and use a clean towel to dry them, as the bacteria can spread from person to person through contaminated towels. Thirdly, avoid sharing personal items, such as clothing or sports equipment. 

Impetigo Treatment  

Seeing impetigo symptoms on your child may be distressing, but the condition is treatable. The Cleveland Clinic notes that medical professionals treat impetigo with topical antibiotic ointment and, in some cases, antibiotics taken by mouth. Before applying the cream or ointment, you may need to soak the affected area in warm water to remove the scabs. 

There are also steps you can take at home to help treat the sores, such as using an over-the-counter ointment or placing a bandage over the sores. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD) notes that in some cases, the infection may resolve on its own. However, if not treated, it could spread. So know that effective treatment helps minimize the risk of further complications, which could include the joints, lungs, bones, or kidneys. 

Remember, if you suspect that your child has impetigo, take them to your primary care physician for a diagnosis. The guidelines in this article combined with a prompt response when needed should help keep your child healthy. 

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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