Toddler health: Is impetigo contagious?

My toddler has impetigo. Is it contagious?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Impetigo is quite common in the toddler set. To understand why this is, it is best to get a handle on why impetigo occurs in the first place. Group A streptococcus is a bacteria that may be found commonly in the skin, nose, and throat of many individuals. It is estimated that as many as 25 percent of people may be carrying this bacteria in their throats without having any symptoms.

Impetigo only occurs when there is a break in the skin to allow bacteria to enter. Toddlers very commonly have runny noses which they can't wipe themselves (and any parent knows you can't keep them wiped for more than five minutes). The irritative nasal mucous breaks down the skin which allows for the streptococcus to enter and cause infection.

Diaper rash is another culprit in causing skin breakdown. But toddlers aren't the only ones who get impetigo. With this bacteria being so prevalent in the environment and children being so active and relatively accident prone, the combination of cuts and bacteria add up for easy skin infection.

The more common place to find impetigo is below the nose and around the mouth. It usually shows up in spots that have been noticed by parents to be areas of skin that were already irritated. It typically has a crusty, honey-colored appearance especially in the facial areas. Other areas of the body that become infected also may have the honey-colored appearance, but the crustiness seems to be the main feature. The bacteria is generally transmitted from person-to-person by close contact similar to how strep throat is spread, so these infections are more often seen in daycare and school settings.

The treatment for the infection depends upon how extensive it is. Often, it may be treated with just a topical antibiotic ointment. However, if there are multiple sites of infection, or the infection covers too much area, antibiotics by mouth may be needed. The rule of "infectiousness" is the same for impetigo as it is for strep throat. The child is considered to be significantly infectious until 24 hours of antibiotics have been administered. Therefore, it is generally recommended that children stay out of daycare or school until this 24 hour period treatment is complete.

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