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School sores (impetigo)

school; sores; impetigo; ;

Impetigo is an infection of the skin. It is often called 'school sores'. Impetigo is very easily spread.


What is impetigo?

  • Impetigo is an infection of the skin caused by some bacteria which usually live on the skin, in the throat or nose, or on other parts of the body without causing a problem. Sometimes these bacteria cause an infection such as impetigo, sore throat or other infection. They are caused by Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria, or sometimes both.
  • Impetigo can occur on healthy skin but it often happens when the skin has already been damaged by a scratch, bite or a disease affecting the skin such as eczema or chicken pox.
  • The sores can be anywhere on the body, but are often on the face near the mouth and nose, or on the arms and legs.

Impetigo.jpg (8745 bytes)

  • Impetigo is very easily spread.
  • It is more common in hotter months.
  • People can be worried about it because it is on the skin, and easy to see. Impetigo can occur even when the skin is kept clean, it is not a sign of poor parenting.

What is impetigo like?

  • Impetigo usually starts with a blister or a group of blisters.
  • The blister bursts leaving a patch of red, wet skin which weeps.
  • The spot usually becomes coated with a tan or yellowish crust, making it look like it has been covered with honey.
  • There can be small spots around the first spots, spreading outwards.
  • Impetigo is usually itchy.

How is it spread?

  • The sore is itchy, and children can scratch it, spreading the infection to nearby skin or to other parts of their own body.
  • The fluid and crusts of the sore contain the bacteria, and touching the sore or touching things that have been on the sore (clothing, dressings, towels, etc) can spread the infection to other people.
  • The germs can also be spread from other parts of the body that do not appear to be affected, eg from a runny nose.

How long does it take to develop?

  • The sore takes about 4 to 10 days to develop after contact with fluid or crusts from a sore.

How long is it infectious?

  • A sore can be infectious as long as it is weeping. Usually it has stopped being infectious about 24 hours after treatment with an antibiotic (ointment or medicine) has been started, and healing has begun.

What you can do

  • A child with impetigo needs to be checked by a doctor to be sure that it is impetigo, because an antibiotic medicine or sometimes ointment is generally prescribed. If an antibiotic ointment is recommended, the sore needs to be washed and the crusts lifted gently off for the ointment to work best.
  • Try to prevent scratching of the sores as much as possible, eg cover sores with a watertight dressing and cut the child's fingernails.
  • Using an antiseptic soap may help stop spread of the infection to other parts of the body.

Keeping children away from school/daycare

  • Keep the child home from school, kindergarten or day care until 24 hours after treatment has begun. Have a look at SA Health information Exclusion from childcare, preschool, school and work
  • Let the school know - a note home from the teacher to parents (without mentioning your child's name) can alert them to be on the look out for impetigo.

Reducing the spread of impetigo

Impetigo is easily spread but it is usually not a serious infection. People can be worried about it because it is on the skin, and easy to see. Impetigo can occur even when the skin is kept clean, it is not a sign of poor parenting.

  • A daily bath or shower with soap and water may lessen the risk of impetigo. Antiseptic soaps can be used, but these can irritate the skin of some people and are not really needed.
  • Good hygiene including regular hand washing and throwing away used tissues is advised. Cut fingernails short and keep them clean.
  • Make sure that grazes or cuts are thoroughly washed and if the child is scratching a sore, it may be wise to cover it with a dressing.
  • Impetigo sores need to be covered with a waterproof dressing.
  • People coming in contact with someone with impetigo need to wash their hands often. Put all dressings in a bin with a lid as soon as they are taken off.
  • Impetigo is usually spread by contact with a sore either by touching with the hands or direct sore to skin contact, but it may also be spread by contact with clothes, bedding, towels etc that have touched the sore too. If you are worried about this risk, keep towels, sheets and pillowcases separate from the rest of the family. Wash them in hot water and dry in the sunshine or a hot tumble dryer. Toys can be washed using a mild disinfectant.

References and more to read

SA Health

Raising Children Network 

Better Health Channel 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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