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Impetigo

Impetigo is a very contagious skin condition most typically caused by Staphylococcus aureus, which is a type of bacteria. Symptoms include blisters (sometimes bullae) and sores, which crust over when they burst.

  1. Bacterial skin infection
  2. Causes blisters and sores
  3. Treated with antibiotic cream

If you think you might have impetigo, you should speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Our private video consultation service enables you to talk to a UK doctor about impetigo online, who will be able to issue advice and treatment where required.

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Description

What is impetigo?

Impetigo is a skin infection caused by bacteria. It is most common in children but can occur in adults too. In most cases it is self-limiting, lasting usually for around three weeks without treatment, but topically applied antibiotics can help to shorten the duration of symptoms significantly. When the infection is active, it can be spread very easily to other people through direct or indirect physical contact; so this is another reason why treatment is normally recommended. 

What symptoms can impetigo cause?

There are two types of impetigo; bullous and non-bullous. In the former, bullae (larger yellow blisters) are present. These might burst and leave an open sore. Non-bullous impetigo is characterised by much smaller blisters which crust over and form plaques. It’s possible for both types to occur anywhere on the body, but non-bullous tends more often to be present on the face (near the nose and mouth) and fingers and toes, and spreads more rapidly. Bullous can appear on the face but might also appear on the torso, arms and legs.

In the UK, Staphylococcus aureus (the same type of bacteria that causes a ‘staph infection’) is the most common cause of impetigo. Streptococcus pyogenes can sometimes be the cause as well. Impetigo can affect healthy skin (primary impetigo) or skin already damaged by another condition or injury (secondary impetigo). Scabies is one example; this condition, caused by mites laying eggs in the dermis, can cause skin irritation and sometimes a rash. Impetigo might occur when this already inflamed skin becomes infected with the above bacteria.

For the most part, impetigo is self-limiting. Symptoms will usually dissipate on their own after around three weeks; although it is possible in rare cases for the infection to spread and become worse. It’s very easy to pass on the infection to someone else through physical contact, and through sharing domestic items that come into contact with infected areas such as towels; so it’s a good idea to see a doctor as soon you can if you notice symptoms. They will be able to give you advice on how to limit the infection, reduce the risk of it spreading, and prescribe suitable treatment.

You can consult with a GMC registered doctor about impetigo through our secure video service. Simply click to proceed, and pick an appointment slot that suits you. After you have booked your appointment, you’ll be given a short form to fill in. You don’t have to complete this before you speak to our doctor, but it will help to save time during your consultation if you do.

Through our confidential video consultation facility, our doctors are able to issue prescriptions for treatment. If our UK pharmacy can provide this medicine, you’ll be given the option to buy your impetigo treatment from our site and have it delivered to your home; or alternatively, our doctor can send your e-prescription to a local pharmacy near you, so you can collect it in person.

If our doctor thinks you need to be seen by a specialist in person, they can also make a referral for you.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Diagnosis and Treatment

How is impetigo diagnosed?

The symptoms of impetigo are quite distinct, and can normally be identified by a doctor on sight. However, if they suspect that a different type of infection is present (such as cellulitis, where deeper tissues are affected) then they might perform a physical examination of the infected areas to make sure.

Will I need tests?

Sometimes, impetigo can affect skin which has already been damaged by another type of infection, such as scabies. If a doctor thinks that impetigo has occurred due to the presence of another infection, they may take a swab from one of the sores and send it off to be tested.

They might also take a swab test to determine what specific strain of bacteria is causing impetigo or if you’ve had several episodes before. Treatment will normally commence before the results of this test come back; however the findings from the test may be used to inform future treatment if symptoms return.

What will a doctor normally advise?

They’ll give you some guidance on how to keep the infected areas clean, with water and antibacterial soap. In most cases they will also issue a topical antibiotic cream to stop the infection getting worse and help expedite recovery.

The symptoms of impetigo will typically clear on their own without treatment in around three weeks. However, topical antibiotics are usually advised because they can help to reduce the recovery time significantly (by around half) and lower the risk of the infection being passed onto someone else.

What treatments are there for impetigo?

In addition to hygiene measures, topical antibiotics such as fusidic acid cream are recommended in localised cases. 

If symptoms are very severe or it looks like the infection might be systemic (affecting all or several different parts of the body) then a doctor may consider issuing a course of oral antibiotic tablets. 

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How is impetigo treated?

Topical antibiotics are typically used to treat impetigo. These help to nullify the bacteria responsible for the infection. In some cases, a doctor may need to take a swab to help them identify the bacteria responsible; but they will normally be able to diagnose and issue treatment for impetigo after a visual examination of your symptoms.

What treatments are there?

Fusidic acid (available as Fucidin cream) is currently the preferred treatment for impetigo according to NICE guidelines, as it is able to tackle both strains of bacteria usually responsible (Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes).

Mupirocin might be used if a doctor finds that a resistant strain of Staphylococcus is present after taking a swab test.

If the infection is very serious and spreading deeper beyond the skin, then a course of oral antibiotics might be considered. If you do have severe symptoms, then you should not wait for a doctor’s appointment and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Are there side effects?

There are uncommon side effects associated with the use of Fusidic acid, including irritation at the site of application and itchiness. More details can be found in the product leaflet.

Can I consult a doctor about Impetigo online?

Yes. If you think you might have impetigo, our doctors may be able to help. Click to book an appointment and you’ll be asked to choose a slot convenient for you. Our doctor will be able to talk to you about how to keep the infection area clean, and issue a prescription for treatment where required. You can then choose to order this treatment from our UK pharmacy, and have it shipped to you in one working day. Our doctor is also able to send an e-prescription to your nearest pharmacy for you, so you can go and pick it up in person if you prefer.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020

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