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What is Impetigo?

Impetigo is a common bacterial skin infection. Although it can occur anywhere, it is most common on the face, arms and legs. It often develops in areas where there has been an injury such as an insect bite, a cut, or other trauma. It is most common in children under 2 years of age, but may be seen in children of all ages as well as in adults.

Impetigo usually starts as a red area of skin that rapidly increases in size, may form a blister or pus bump or ooze, then quickly crusts over or forms a scab. There may be mild associated pain or itch.

Impetigo is highly contagious and is easily spread by contact with an infected person or by contact with items that an infected person has been touching or playing with.

Treatment for Impetigo

Treatment consists of use of appropriate topical antibiotics and good skin care. Occasionally, antibiotics may need to be taken by mouth if the infection is widespread.

  • The affected areas should be washed daily with soap or cleanser; soaking with a wet washcloth may help to gently remove crusting, but do not scrub the skin.
  • Use of an antibacterial soap or cleanser, such as chlorhexidine, may be helpful in minimizing transmission of the infection.
  • An antibiotic ointment should be applied twice daily or as directed by your healthcare provider.
  • When possible, the affected area should be covered with a clean bandage.
  • In general, children with impetigo are restricted from school and daycare until they have been on treatment for 24 hours.
  • Dilute bleach baths done two to three times a week may be helpful.
    • Bleach baths help reduce the bacteria count on your child’s skin. This is helpful in patients with difficult to control or flaring eczema (atopic dermatitis), patients with MRSA or other skin infections, such as impetigo.

      To make bleach baths at home, add ½ cup of plain (fragrance free) Clorox (or other regular bleach) to a full bathtub of water. Allow your child to soak in the bleach bath for 20-30 minutes. After coming out of the bleach bath, rinse well in plain water. After that, please apply any moisturizer or topical medication that your doctor has recommended to you. You may perform bleach baths two to three times per week.

      To make one gallon for dilute bleach soaks, add two teaspoons of plain (fragrance free) Clorox to one gallon of water.

      During the summer, swimming in a chlorinated swimming pool for 20 minutes is equivalent to a bleach bath.

      If your child complains of stinging, you can add ½-1 cup of kosher salt to the water to help.

  • Contact your healthcare provider if the impetigo is not improving within two to three days of starting treatment.

Helpful Tips

In addition, the following tips may be helpful:

  • Keep your child’s nails short and filed smooth to prevent further damage and discourage your child from scratching or picking at his or her skin.
  • Encourage your child to wash hands with soap or use hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Wash any cuts or other areas of skin trauma immediately, apply a topical antibiotic (double antibiotic or bacitracin, not triple antibiotic ointment) twice daily, and keep area covered with a clean bandage.
  • Wash clothes, linens and towels regularly in hot water and don’t share between family members.

Last Updated 04/2022

Reviewed By Zac Noland, RN

Visiting Cincinnati Childrens.

Cincinnati Children’s has primary care services at locations throughout Greater Cincinnati.