Impetigo is an infection of the skin caused by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus aureus. It can be very contagious, especially among children, and it needs proper treatment right away. There are many incorrect suggestions for how to treat the condition, some of which even suggest leaving it alone or simply soaking the infection regularly in various substances. Due to its potential for complication, however, it is not recommended that people attempt methods that don’t involve some form of antibiotic treatment. Under some circumstances, especially in kids, a rare complication that can harm the kidneys may develop when people fail to treat the infection.
People who think they might have impetigo should see a medical professional to get a clear diagnosis. The main symptom of the disease is a rash that appears on the face or on the hands, where it can create blisters that eventually ooze and then crust over. The rash can show up elsewhere, but any blistery rash could indicate other illnesses too, like chicken pox. The scab or crust part will look different than chicken pox scabs, but in the blister stage, one might be mistaken for another. Patients should alert their healthcare provider when heading to the medical office to let them know about the blisters, as there may be different protocol if chicken pox are suspected.
Medical professionals usually take one of two approaches to treat this infection. They may recommend an oral antibiotic to kill the bacteria, or they could recommend a topical antibiotic, with instructions to return if it isn’t clearing up the problem. If the rash is on the hands, it’s usually advised people cover it with loose bandages — gauze and tape works well — to minimize the chances of passing the condition to others. It may be harder to cover rash on the face, and it’s strongly advised people don’t touch or scratch the exposed rash. People may need to keep their hands in their pockets, wear mittens, or tape gauze on the affected part of the face, but they should try to avoid touching the rash. It's especially important for patients to avoid scratching it, since this may make it worse or spread the rash elsewhere.
Since impetigo does itch, there are some helpful hints for reducing the irritation. Oatmeal baths or soaks may reduce some of the discomfort, as can using vinegar. Some anti-itch creams with diphenhydramine may be useful, and oral diphenhydramine can help too, though it will usually make the patient very sleepy.
Given the contagious nature of impetigo, patients need to be isolated from large groups of people, so they should not go to school or spend time in public areas where many other people gather. The infection usually clears up in a few days with proper treatment, but medical professionals usually advise that children not attend school while a case is still infectious. Even a covered rash may weep and spread to others. Schools and other groups may include people who are medically vulnerable or have impaired immune systems, and while the infection is only a transient and annoying illness for many, for the medically vulnerable, it may be very severe.