Skin infections can affect anyone no matter the age. Impetigo, a type of skin infection, affects mostly preschool and school-age children. This is caused by one of two common bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus or Group A streptococcus (Streptococcus pyogenes). The infection occurs mostly on the summer months affecting any skin part on the body. But it is usually seen on the area around the nose and mouth. Although the bacteria can live harmlessly on the skin, infection happens only when there are cuts or even insect bites. The infection has also the tendency to develop on perfectly healthy skin.
Generally, red sores appear at first that may also be itchy, may rupture with oozing fluid for a few days and finally, developing a honey-colored or brown sugar-colored crust. This is a characteristic infection of Group A
streptococcus. At this point, the impetigo is highly contagious and scratching or even touching the sores can likely spread the infection to other parts of the body as well as to other people.
Characteristic infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus appear first as larger clear fluid-containing blisters that may then appear cloudy. These blisters may likely stay intact longer on the skin without bursting. The infection is also contagious at this point thus scratching or even touching the infection is a “no-no”.
There are however several types of the infection that includes bullous impetigo, impetigo contagiosa, and ecthyma. Of the three, ecthyma is the more serious because the infection penetrates deeper into the skin’s second layer, dermis. This is characteristically seen as pus- or fluid-filled sores with a thick, hard, gray-and-yellowish crust that covers the legs and feet that can turn into deep painful ulcers. Other characteristics include lymph glands that are swollen in the affected areas as well as scars that are noticeable after the ulcers heal.
Avoiding the spread of the infection is important. But knowing the risk factors will better help avoid further development of impetigo. First and foremost, both bacteria flourish in crowded areas, which is why school children are at high risk with the infection. Other risk factors also include warm, humid weather (summer months), direct contact with an adult or child who has the infection or with contaminated towels, bedding or even clothing, having chronic dermatitis, especially atopic dermatitis, skin-to-skin contact in sports like football or wrestling and the common factor, crowded conditions. However, adult and children with diabetic conditions are more at risk with the infection further developing into ecthyma.
The infection is treatable with a prescribed antibiotic ointment. But proper care of the skin is very important. By using soap and clean water in bathing and paying careful attention to rashes, cuts, and allergic reactions can help in the prevention of the spread of the infection.
For those with already active infection of impetigo or living with one, proper care should start with wearing gloves when applying the ointment, washing the infected clothing separately everyday, cutting the fingernails short to prevent scratching, and encouraging everyone to wash their hands frequently.