About impetigo or school sores
Impetigo or school sores is a skin infection caused by bacteria.
Bacteria can get into the skin through a cut, scratch or sore. Because the skin is broken, it can’t act as a barrier against the bacteria. The bacteria grow in the sore and stop it from healing normally.
If a child touches the sore and then touches somewhere else on their body, the bacteria can spread. This can cause more impetigo sores to develop on the body.
Impetigo is highly contagious. It can spread to other people through physical contact. Objects like towels, sheets and toys can also spread the sores to other people. It’s quite common for there to be outbreaks of impetigo in schools and child care centres.
Impetigo often occurs on top of other skin conditions like eczema, scabies, insect bites or chickenpox. And in rare cases, it can cause complications including severe skin infections and kidney disease.
Impetigo is more common in the warmer months. It’s also more common in young boys.
Symptoms of impetigo or school sores
In the early stages of impetigo, you might notice flat spots or small blisters on any part of your child’s body. These spots are especially common around the mouth, nose, hands and legs. On children with lighter skin, the spots might look red. On children with darker skin, the spots might look brown, purple or grey.
The spots might fill up with yellow or green pus, burst or crust over. The bacteria 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. They can be itchy and tender.
In severe cases, the skin surrounding the blisters might also change colour and feel warm. Your child might also have fever, tiredness or a lack of interest in food.
Children under 6 years of age are at risk of a complication from impetigo called staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. Its symptoms include:
- serious blisters on the face, underarms, groin and body
- significant pain
Does your child need to see a doctor about impetigo or school sores?
Yes. You should see your GP if your child:
- has impetigo symptoms
- has a sore and the skin around it has changed colour
- has a crusted or weeping sore, especially if the sore is getting larger or spreading
- is also generally unwell or has a fever.
Tests for impetigo or school sores
Your GP will take a swab of the infected sores and send it for testing. This can identify the bacteria that’s causing the impetigo infection, and it helps your GP know which antibiotic will work best against it.
Treatment for impetigo or school sores
If the impetigo sores are small and aren’t blistering, you can apply an over-the-counter antiseptic cream from your pharmacy 2-3 times a day.
But most cases of impetigo need a prescribed medication like an antibiotic ointment, tablet or liquid. Your child must take the full course of antibiotics, or the infection might come back.
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 getting your child to soak in the bath for 20-30 minutes to soften the scabs. You can then gently wipe away the crust with a towel. Removing the crusts can help prevent the sores from spreading and allow them to heal.
Cover any sores with a watertight dressing.
The sores usually heal without scarring.
Treating impetigo early and effectively can help to stop it from spreading. It can also reduce the chance of complications.
Prevention of impetigo or school sores
If your child has impetigo, there are several things you can do to prevent the sores from spreading to other parts of your child’s body and to other people:
- Use separate towels for different areas of impetigo. Don’t use these towels to dry areas without impetigo.
- Keep your child’s fingernails short.
- Encourage your child not to pick the sores.
- Be extra careful with hand-washing. It’s very important to wash your hands after touching any sores.
- Use hot water to wash towels, sheets, 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.
To reduce your child’s chances of getting impetigo, wash any bites, cuts, grazes or areas of eczema carefully and keep them clean. These can be points of entry for the bacteria that cause impetigo.
Children with impetigo should be kept home from child care, preschool or school for at least 24 hours after starting treatment.