Mar 15, 2007 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Impetigo: What You Should Know

Am Fam Physician. 2007 Mar 15;75(6):868.

See related article on impetigo.

What is impetigo?

Impetigo (im-puh-TY-go) is a skin infection caused by bacteria. It is a rash that starts as a small red spot or bump and turns into a blister. The blisters break easily and leave a honey-colored crust. Sometimes the blisters get very large. They usually are on the face or arms but also can be in damp areas like the diaper area or armpit.

Who gets it and why?

Impetigo is most common in children. It is very contagious, and you can get it by touching other people who have it. It usually starts where you have a cut, scratch, or insect bite. You can spread it on yourself by scratching. It is most common in the summer and in crowded living situations or in areas where it is hard to stay clean.

How do I know if I have impetigo?

The rash is usually itchy. Sometimes people with impetigo have swollen glands, a fever, or diarrhea. Impetigo can look like fever blisters, rash, burns, or eczema. Your doctor usually can tell if you have impetigo by the way the rash looks and where it is on your body.

How is impetigo treated?

Impetigo is treated with antibiotics. If the rash is small, an antibiotic cream like mupirocin (one brand: Bactroban) works best. For a larger rash your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic. Over-the-counter creams don't work well to treat impetigo.

What can I expect?

Even without treatment, the rash almost always goes away without scarring. Treatment helps the rash go away faster and may keep it from spreading to other people. Rarely, some patients may have kidney or other health problems after impetigo.

How can I keep from spreading impetigo?

Washing your hands frequently may help prevent the spread of impetigo. Quick treatment may stop the spread of impetigo to other people. If you have impetigo, you should stay home from school or work until you have been treated for 24 hours to avoid spreading it to other people.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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