Impetigo is a common and highly contagious skin infection that causes sores and blisters. It's not usually serious and often improves within a week of treatment.

There are two types of impetigo:

  • non-bullous impetigo, which typically affects the skin around the nose and mouth, causing sores to develop that quickly burst to leave a yellow-brown crust
  • bullous impetigo, which typically affects the trunk (the central part of the body between the waist and neck), causing fluid-filled blisters (bullae) to develop that burst after a few days to leave a yellow crust

Both types of impetigo may leave behind some red marks when the crusts have cleared up, but these will usually improve over the following days or weeks.

Read more about the symptoms of impetigo.

Seeking medical advice

Speak to your GP if you think you or your child may have symptoms of impetigo.

Impetigo is not usually serious, but it can sometimes have similar symptoms to more serious conditions such as cellulitis (an infection of the deeper layers of skin) so it's important to get a correct diagnosis.

Your GP can also prescribe treatment to help clear up the infection more quickly than if it was left untreated.

What causes impetigo?

Impetigo is caused by bacteria infecting the outer layers of skin.

The bacteria can infect the skin in two main ways:

  • through a break in otherwise healthy skin, such as a cutinsect bite or other injury
  • through skin damaged by another underlying skin condition, such as scabies or eczema

Once someone is infected with the bacteria, the infection can be spread easily through close contact, such as through direct physical contact, or by sharing towels or flannels.

Read more about the causes of impetigo.

Who is affected

Impetigo can affect people of any age, but it tends to affect children more often than adults.

Every year in the UK, around one in every 35 children up to four years of age and around one in every 60 children between four and 15 years of age will develop impetigo.

Non-bullous impetigo is the most common type of impetigo, accounting for more than 70% of cases. Bullous impetigo is most common in babies, although it can affect older children and adults too.

How impetigo is treated

Impetigo usually gets better without treatment in around two to three weeks, but treatment is often recommended because it can reduce the length of the illness to around seven to 10 days and can lower the risk of the infection being spread to others.

The main treatments prescribed are antibiotic creams or antibiotic tablets. These usually have to be used for around a week.

During treatment, it's important to take precautions to minimise the risk of impetigo spreading to other people or other areas of the body, such as by:

  • not touching the sores whenever possible
  • washing your hands regularly 
  • not sharing flannels, sheets or towels
  • staying away from work, school, nursery or playgroup until the sores have dried up or treatment has been continuing for at least 48 hours 

Most people are no longer contagious after 48 hours of treatment or once their sores have dried and healed.

Read more about treating impetigo and preventing the spread of impetigo.

Potential complications

Impetigo is rarely serious, but in some cases the infection can spread to other areas of the body and cause problems such as cellulitis and scarlet fever.

In very rare cases, impetigo may lead to some scarring, particularly if you scratch at the blisters, crusts or sores.

Read more about the possible complications of impetigo.

Page last reviewed: 17/07/2014

Next review due: 17/07/2016


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The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

misfities said on 03 November 2014

for the lips, try something called lemon balm. I buy it through amazon and it seems to work pretty well as a preventative.

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misfities said on 03 November 2014

I empathize with all of you. I'm now going on twenty years since I first starting having outbreaks of impetigo. I've had it almost weekly for two decades and its pushed me to the very brink of sanity. I have taken over 25 different antibiotics. Mayo Clinic even gave me leprosy medicine as a long shot attempt to cure it. I think I will always have to live with this, but here are some things I learned. There are some triggers for me. Radiant heat. Citrus fruits (even as innocuous as the lemon juice used as a preservative in things like mayonnaise). Chocolate. Licorice. I learned these triggers from trial and error. I would eat nothing but chicken and rice, then add one thing (chocolate for example) and watch my face explode. And try not to think I'm crazy here, but computer and cell phone usage cause breakouts for me. This may be due to the heat emitted? I don't know. But you can't discredit anything. You have to cut things out. Try different things. Now, at the 20 year mark, I am starting to explore candida as a possible culprit. Just know that you are not alone. My life is hell. I have a wife and kids and every day I feel like I'm going to lose everything because honey colored juice starts pumping out of my face at least once a week or every other week. I wish that I was never born to have to face this humiliating existence!

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LilMiss95 said on 08 July 2014

I've had Impetigo twice in a year, but I get it on my lip so it swells up like a ballon, which means, eating, drinking and even talking is harder. Just been to the Doctors about it and they were extremely helpful, but I wish they could tell me how to prevent it ever happening again. I look like i have had botox.

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seanny said on 23 June 2014

i get this at least 4 times a year i am 22 and for the past mounth i have had an infection all the time starting off with this and now 4 weeks on i have got this again i have been getting this since i was 16 and its now getting to a point where it affects every part of my life. would really like some advice on this.

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Basri Abdullah said on 17 May 2014

This Article give me complete info and very helpful

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cstan said on 18 December 2012

I have suffered from impetigo and skin conditions for years. Have tried using fucidin and oral antibiotics but after lots of research bought from local health store anti fungal lotion. Inexpensive and natural...changed my life so far all cleared up within a week of use.

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beccaleccahigh said on 07 May 2012

Lulu- I have had a skin condition for a year that sounds very similar, might actually be an evil combination. It started as tiny blisters that burst, cracked and itched so bad, it woke me up at night. I finally found an over the counter antifungal that cleared it up. I cut sugar out of my diet while I was taking it and now have only one tiny patch that I am clearing up on my 3rd round of the antifungal- the antifungal is called "fungal defense" made by Garden of LIfe. I hope this helps. Feeling for you- hope you find relief.

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lulu71 said on 29 March 2012

for over 2 years i have suffered with impetigo and i cant take it anymore its destroying my life. i have had creams and antibiotics that seem to work but within 2 weeks of finishing the course its back. at the moment i am half way through a 3 month supply of antibiotics and its flared up worse than it ever has. its all over my face, on my lips my arms and legs my chest and both feet and even my nails both hands and toe nails. i cant cope anymore if i am begging for HELP.

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clphanfrmi said on 14 December 2011

To Jamb0ree: If your condition keeps recurring. I would suggest you see a doctor because with the correct treatment, Impetigo does not keep recurring. This article says that if it does not respond to treatment (and this means not come back), you may have another skin condition. Adults do not usually get Impetigo anyway.

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Jamb0ree said on 02 October 2011

I've suffered with episodes of impetigo for some time now and found that tea tree oil is really effective. For me this is much more effective than any prescribed antibiotics or cream, plus you can treat it straight away rather than waiting to see a doctor - by which time its probably twice the size!

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Coulls said on 02 August 2010

Quote: "where bacteria enters skin that is otherwise health - for example"...

Someone should change that to "healthy" on the next review.

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