Unlike some other skin disorders such as acne and eczema, impetigo is a highly contagious disease caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria. It is most common in children (ages 2 to 6). The disease is not ordinarily found in adults, but players of contact sports are more susceptible, no matter what their age.
Symptoms of impetigo occur as small blisters around the nose and face and often on the arms and legs that form yellowish crusts. Fragile blisters that break and leave raw areas of skin with ragged edges characterize the more severe form. This infection can be transferred through contact with broken skin or with clothing, bedding or other objects that have been exposed to the infection.
Having said that, Impetigo is not considered a serious medical problem. The condition often clears up by itself, and rarely leaves scars as acne and eczema can do. The best treatment for the common type (known as non-bullous impetigo) is thorough gentle cleansing with soap and water, plus the application of antibacterial ointment such as mupirocin. Oral antibiotics are also available and may be required in more severe or widespread cases.
The bacteria that cause impetigo live naturally on the skin, and only cause infection when they enter the body through a cut or lesion. Children are most susceptible since their immune systems are still immature, so the occurrence of small epidemics is not uncommon in places where children congregate, such as day care centres. This disease is also found more often in warm, humid weather and in children or adults with a pre-existing condition of dermatitis (especially atopic eczema).
In rare cases, impetigo can lead to serious complications including cellulitis and PSGN or post streptococcal glomerulonephritis. Cellulitis, if untreated, can spread to lymph nodes and the bloodstream and become life threatening. PSGN affects the kidney function and is usually more serious in adults than in children.
Though there are effective treatments for impetigo, the symptoms can occasionally be misdiagnosed, as they somewhat resemble those of other skin diseases like ringworm and scabies. If the condition does not improve with treatment in two or three days, a blood culture may be necessary to diagnose any different or additional problems.