Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2007;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.

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.