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Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that most often affects children between two and five years old. Some factors that may increase the chance of developing this condition include trauma to the skin, living in crowded or unsanitary places, or warm and humid conditions. Impetigo is treated with antibiotics, either applied directly to the skin or taken by mouth.

What Is Impetigo?

Impetigo is a common skin condition caused by an infection with bacteria. It most often occurs in children between the ages of two and five, although older children and adults can also get this condition.
The most common form of impetigo is called nonbullous impetigo. The two other types include bullous impetigo and ecthyma.

What Causes It?

The most common cause of impetigo is an infection with Staphylococcus aureus (staph infection). Streptococcus is the other cause of impetigo (this bacteria is well known for causing strep throat).
Several factors increase the chances of developing impetigo. These include:
  • Warm, humid conditions
  • Trauma to the skin (such as cuts, sores, or insect bites)
  • Living in crowded or unsanitary places, such as prisons, military barracks, or homeless shelters.
(Click Impetigo Causes to learn more.)

How Is Impetigo Spread?

Impetigo is contagious. It can be spread from one person to another, or from one part of the body to another, through:
  • Skin-to-skin contact. This is the most common method of transmission. Impetigo sores have a large amount of bacteria in them. If you scratch or touch an active sore contaminated with bacteria and then touch another part of the body, you can spread the infection to that area. Impetigo can also spread from one person to another in the same manner.
  • Touching shared items or surfaces that have come into contact with someone else's infection. This includes things such as towels, bedding, uniforms, razors, washcloths, and sporting equipment.
  • Discharge from the nose of a person colonized with bacteria (see Staph Transmission for more information about colonization).
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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