Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Impetigo is a highly-infectious skin condition that's very common in children. Discover the symptoms and what you can do to treat it.

What is impetigo?

Impetigo is a skin condition caused by a bacteria. Although it can occur at any age, it’s very common in children. It’s also highly infectious, so spreads very easily from person to person.

What are the symptoms of impetigo?

  • Red patches on the skin

  • Sores and blisters

  • A yellow-golden crust that appears like a layer of honey

Impetigo can occur anywhere on the body, but it’s most commonly found on the face, around the nose or mouth.

What causes impetigo?

Impetigo occurs when the skin gets infected with bacteria – either Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes.

There are 2 types of impetigo depending on how the bacteria infects the skin and causes the infection:

  • Primary impetigo – this is when impetigo is caused through a break in otherwise healthy skin – for example a cut or insect bite

  • Secondary impetigo – this is when impetigo is caused through skin damaged by another underlying skin condition, such as scabies or eczema

The bacteria can be spread easily through close contact with someone who has the infection, such as through direct physical contact, or by sharing towels or flannels.

Who is at risk of impetigo?

Children are more likely to develop impetigo, as well as people with diabetes or a weakened immune system – either due to a condition such as HIV or by having chemotherapy.

It spreads very easily so living in close contact with someone who has impetigo can increase the risk. It can spread easily in schools and nurseries.

How to treat impetigo

Impetigo should clear up within 7 to 10 days if it’s treated with an antibiotic cream, which is applied to the rash. This can be prescribed by a GP.

If the infection is severe, widespread or is spreading or worsening despite already using a topical antibiotic cream, you should book another appointment with a GP as oral antibiotics may be needed.

How to prevent impetigo

There are things you can do to prevent the infection spreading to other parts of the body, or to other people:

  • Avoid scratching the rash or sores

  • Wash your hands regularly, especially after touching the rash

  • Wash flannels and face cloths, bed sheets and towels at high temperatures

  • Avoid sharing towels or face cloths with other people within the household

  • Avoid contact sports

  • If you can, cover the rash lightly with a clean, dry gauze or bandage

  • Avoid going to work until all the patches are healed or crusted over.

For impetigo in children

  • Take the above measures to prevent infection spreading

  • Stay away from school until all the patches are healed or crusted over. Your child can also return to school 48 hours after starting antibiotics

  • Wash or wipe down toys with detergent and warm water

  • Avoid playgroups or playdates with other children

When to see a GP

If you suspect you or your child may have impetigo, you should see a GP to confirm the diagnosis and be prescribed the right treatment.

After having treatment, see a GP if:

  • The rash has not improved within a week of using your prescribed medication

  • The rash is spreading or becoming painful, swollen or leaking discharge – despite using the treatment prescribed by your GP

  • You feel unwell (for instance if you have a temperature or feel dizzy, shivery and weak)

  • You have a compromised immune system (if you’re on immunosuppression medication or chemotherapy)

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll make an individual assessment, recommend a treatment or refer you to a specialist if needed.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont , Lead GP at Livi