It’s a common summertime condition…and very common among school-aged children (though can occur in any age group). Your child is likely to get it from daycare, school, or crowded places. It starts as little clusters of red bumps…even blisters…there may be redness around the spots. Eventually the spots begin to <<cringe>> oOoOoze some fluid that crusts around them. The crusts may be honey or grey in colour. It’s common to see them around the mouth and nose or other parts of the skin that is not covered by clothing. Small cuts, abrasions, and insect bites may open up avenue for these sores as well. They sores are also pretty itchy, and when you scratch the scab off another one forms very quickly in its place!
Have you guessed it yet? It’s impetigo! A common skin infection caused by strep or staph bacteria! It’s also kind of scary when you first see it as a parent (or Aunt – as was my case) so I wanted to shed some light on the facts.
Is it Contagious?
Absolutely! Break out the haz-mat suit or you may be infected! Ohhhhkayy….so that may be a bit of an exaggeration… no need for a suit, BUT, direct contact with the rash or the discharge will surely infect you with the same thing. Even if you make contact with the nasal and throat secretions from an infected person! To make matters worse, you can even contract it if you share towels, bed sheets, and clothing that was in contact with the sore of an infected person, so be sure to keep up with the laundry and avoid touching the infected products by any means!
Yet…there’s no rash, yet. If the impetigo rash was caused by staph bacteria (the most common cause) it can incubate for 4-10 days before you see anything, and if it’s caused be strep bacteria, incubation is only 1-3 days!! Trust me, as long as an infected person has a rash that continues to drain – they’re infectious!
Only once an infected individual has started antibiotic treatment for 24 hours are they considered to be no longer contagious.
Is it Serious?
In newborn infants it’s a disease that requires immediate treatment. So if you think your new babe has it – head on over to the doctors immediately! If they’re not a newborn but have impetigo, it’s good to know that while easily treated, if it’s not treated it can become serious! If your child has impetigo there’s a few things you need to be on the lookout for. You’ll know things are heading south if you notice puffiness around the child’s eyes, leg swelling, or blood in the urine. These are signs of acute kidney disease (occurring sometimes with strep-caused impetigo). If this occurs – immediate attention by a doctor is warranted.
It's been researched that this acute kidney disease, or "poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis" is not prevented by antibiotic use.
Mild and moderate cases of impetigo are usually self-limiting and don’t scar. Untreated cases will heal in about 3-6 weeks (ouch! and you’re contagious!) while treated cases resolve a lot more quickly (and prevent the spread to others)!
Is it Preventable?
To prevent the spread of infection from one child to another – careful hand-washing is the most critical factor. Ensuring you don’t come into contact with any clothing or material that has touched an untreated rash, and obviously avoiding direct contact with the fluid and crusts themselves. If your child suffers a minor cut or abrasion, clean the wound with soap and water.
Infections are self-limiting even without antibiotic use but antibiotic ointments are often prescribed to help limit the spread to others and speed recovery time. If your child is prescribed oral antibiotics (which may be the case) it is often suggested to talk to your doctor about how to take probiotics during their course to help repopulate your beneficial gut flora and prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Some other common at-home treatments include a goldenseal powder applied topically can help dry impetigo up and heal the area. Any calendula product (tincture, oil, cream, etc) will also act as a mild disinfectant and soothe the skin.