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Impetigo – also called school sores – happens when sores on your child’s skin get infected by common bacteria. The sores are  very contagious and can be crusted, weeping, blistered or filled with pus. Your child needs to see a GP to get antibiotic treatment.

Causes of impetigo or school sores

Impetigo develops when a common germ (usually Streptococcus A or Staphylococcus aureus bacteria) gets into a cut, scratch or sore on your child’s skin. Because the skin is broken, it can’t serve as a barrier against the germs.

The germs multiply in the sore and stop it from healing normally. The germs can spread to other parts of the body through contact with the original sore. This causes more impetigo sores. The germs in the sores are also highly contagious to other people.

Impetigo often occurs on top of other skin problems such as eczema, scabies, insect bites  or chickenpox.

Impetigo is more common in the warmer months.

Impetigo is also called school sores.

Symptoms of impetigo or school sores

In the early stages of impetigo, all you might notice are flat red spots or small blisters on any part of your child’s body. These spots are especially common around the face (particularly the mouth and nose), hands and legs.

The spots might fill up with yellow or green pus, burst or crust over. The germs are in the liquid and crusts of the sores. If you don’t treat the sores, they might get bigger and more of them might grow.

Impetigo can be itchy or tender.

When to see your doctor about impetigo or school sores

You should see your doctor if:

  • a sore on your child’s body is surrounded by an area of red skin
  • your child is also generally unwell or has a fever
  • you think your child has impetigo.

Tests for impetigo or school sores

Your GP will take a swab of the infected sores and send it for pathology. This can work out what germ is causing the impetigo infection and the antibiotic that will work best against that germ.

Treatment of impetigo or school sores

If the impetigo sores are small and aren’t blistering, apply an antibiotic cream and be extra careful about skin hygiene and handwashing. This can prevent the sores from spreading and allow them to heal.

But most cases of impetigo need a prescribed medication, either mupirocin ointment and/or antibiotic medicine by mouth for 7-10 days. Your child must take the full course of antibiotics, or the infection might come back again.

In between putting the ointment on the infected spots, gently wash your child’s skin with soap or an antibacterial solution, then pat dry.

You can remove the crusts from your child’s skin by soaking her in the bath for 20-30 minutes to soften the scabs. You can then gently wipe away the crust with a towel.

Prevention of impetigo or school sores

Wash any bites, cuts, grazes or areas of eczema carefully and keep them clean. These can be points of entry for the germs that cause impetigo.

Impetigo can spread rapidly to other parts of the body if your child touches the sore and then scratches somewhere else. Explain this to your child, and encourage him not to pick at the sores.

Keep your child’s fingernails short and wash her hands often, until the infection has cleared up.

Use separate towels for different areas of impetigo, and don’t use these towels to dry unaffected areas of your child’s body.

Use hot water to wash towels, bed linen, soft toys and anything else that has come into contact with blood, pus or sores. Dry in hot sun or in a hot clothes dryer.

Impetigo is highly contagious. Keep your child home from child care, preschool or school, and cover all the sores with watertight dressings. After your child starts antibiotic treatment, wait at least 24 hours before sending her back to child care, preschool or school.
  • Last updated or reviewed 27-08-2015