Impetigo is a bacterial infection of the skin. It mainly affects the hands and face (especially around the corners of the mouth) although it can affect other parts of the body.

It is especially common in children but can also affect adults. It is highly contagious and is easily spread through contact therefore it is particularly common in nursery and school environments.


The bacteria staphylococcus aureus which usually cause impetigo normally live on the surface of the skin without causing a problem. However, sometimes damage to the surface of the skin such as a scratch, an insect bite or sting, eczema or nappy rash can cause the bacteria to penetrate the skin's surface and grow out of control.


The first symptom to appear is a rash of red lumps or spots. Blisters then form which burst and produce pus. This then dries up and forms a yellow crust on the surface of the skin. The affected area can become itchy and sore.Scratching the affected area and then touching another part of the body is likely to spread the infection.

Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose impetigo simply by looking at your skin. However, cold sores often look similar to impetigo so your doctor may take a swab and send it to a laboratory for testing to confirm the diagnosis.

Avoiding Impetigo

  • avoid contact with anyone who has impetigo Do not share flannels, towels or shaving equipment with anyone who has impetigo
  • any condition which causes broken skin such as eczema or nappy rash should be kept under control. This may help to avoid impetigo infection developing in the first place


Impetigo is commonly treated with an antibacterial cream or ointment such as fusidic acid or mupirocin.In severe cases, oral antibiotics such as flucloxacillin or erythromycin may be required to clear the infection.

Mild antiseptic skin preparations and shampoos containing povidone-iodine are also available from your pharmacy. These help to soften the crusts that form on the surface of the skin.

Self-help Measures

  • wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading the infection Wash your clothes and towels frequently at the highest temperature possible according to the label Try not to touch or scratch the affected areas because this will spread the infection to other parts of the body Keep your fingernails short Do not cover the skin with dressings or plasters, it should be kept exposed to the air so that it heals more effectively
  • if you develop impetigo you should avoid contact with others until the spots have dried up and stopped weeping or until two days after starting antibiotic treatment. If your child has impetigo this means staying away from nursery or school

When To See A Doctor

If you think you may have impetigo, make an appointment to see your doctor.If you are unsure whether you have a cold sore or impetigo then speak to your pharmacist or doctor. The two may easily be confused but treatment is totally different.

Additional Information

Leaflets about nappy rash, eczema and cold sores are also available from this pharmacy.

Further information about impetigo is available from