Impetigo is a fairly common condition that affects mostly babies and children. It can be distressing because it is unsightly and quite contagious, but it is not serious and can usually be cleared up within a few days to a week with a course of antibiotics.
The condition is defined as a highly contagious skin infection that results in a number of small red sores. These sores generally appear around the nose and mouth, but can also appear on the hands as well. They are pus filled and after a couple of days they will burst and begin to form a honey colored crust that begins at the edges of the sore and works inward. During this period, contact with an infected individual can cause the infection to spread.
How is the skin infection caused?
While the bacteria causing impetigo (strep or staph) may have been caught from someone else with impetigo or boils, it usually begins out of the blue without any apparent source of infection. It is likely that the bacteria enter the skin when it is compromised, such as when your children have a bite, eczema, poison ivy or allergy, but the condition can arise in healthy skin as well.
What are the best treatment options for impetigo?
Antibiotics taken by mouth usually clear up impetigo in four or five days. It’s important for the antibiotic to be taken faithfully until the prescribed supply is completely used up.
An antibiotic ointment, such as Polysporin, should be applied thinly four times daily. Polysporin can be purchased without a prescription. Crusts should be removed before the ointment is applied. Soak a soft, clean cloth in a mixture of one-half cup of white vinegar and a quart of lukewarm water. Press this cloth on the crusts for 10-15 minutes three or four times daily. Then gently wipe off the crusts and apply a little antibiotic ointment. You can stop soaking the impetigo when crusts no longer form. When the skin is healed, stop the antibiotic ointment.
In 2007, the FDA approved a new antibiotic ointment called Altabex, which was specifically designed for the treatment of impetigo. This was the first new class of antibacterial medications approved by the FDA in over 20 years and represented a major step forward in the treatment of this condition. The approval came after a series of studies that showed distinct signs of improvement among patients treated with the drug. It is particularly effective for children above the age of 9 months and shows little if any adverse side effects.
Some Precautions to Heed:
Impetigo is contagious when there is crusting or oozing. While it’s contagious, take the following precautions:
1. Patients should avoid close contact with other people. Children should be kept home from school until the lesions crust over.
2. Use separate towels for the patient. The patient’s towels, pillowcases, and sheets should be changed after the first day of treatment.
3. His or her clothing should be changed and laundered daily for the first two days. Usually the contagious period ends within two days after treatment starts.
4. If the impetigo doesn’t heal in one week, please return to your dermatologist for another evaluation.