Your Health A-Z

Impetigo: the most common skin infection at school

School and daycares are great for socialising, learning and play, but one of the drawbacks is that infections are quickly passed around. We look at one of the most common skin infections in children: impetigo.

What is impetigo?

Impetigo is the most common bacterial skin infection in schools, and is characterised by red sores that break open and then crust over. Caused by either the streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria, impetigo is also highly contagious. It’s more common among children who already suffer from skin irritations – for example eczema, skin allergies or even a nose rubbed raw after a cold – as this makes the skin vulnerable to infection.

Keep it clean

Good hygiene and skincare can prevent bacteria from entering the skin, which often happens when a sore is scratched repeatedly. After infection, no impetigo symptoms will appear for up to 10 days, but during this window period the carrier can spread the disease further, making it difficult to eradicate at schools.

The most common is non-bullous impetigo, which looks like small insect bites and then turns into blisters that scab over with a honey-coloured crust within a few days.

The second type, bullous impetigo, is caused by the staphylococcus bacteria which produces a toxin that causes the top layer of the skin (epidermis) to flake off the lower layer (dermis). Blisters (bullae) then form, break open and form dark scabs.

How it is diagnosed: Doctors diagnose skin infections by doing a visual inspection of the skin or sending a sample to the lab.

How it is treated: As is the case with bacterial infections, impetigo needs to be treated with antibiotics, although usually a topical antibiotic cream is sufficient to treat the infection. Children who are infected with impetigo are advised to stay away from school for 24 hours after starting treatment to prevent the infection from spreading further.

At home care: Fingernails should be kept short and clean and the infected area should be gently washed with clean water. The sores can be covered with a loose bandage if younger children keep scratching them. If a child touches the sores, they should wash their hands immediately, because it can easily spread to other parts of the body.

If you suspect your child has a skin infection, visit your child’s GP or paediatrician or see a dermatologist.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.