What Is Impetigo?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 26, 2022

If your child gets red sores, especially around the nose and mouth, they could have impetigo. It's a skin infection caused by a bacteria, and it spreads easily. It's most common in babies and young children, but adults can get it too.

Impetigo sores can appear anywhere on the body, but children tend to get them on their face. Sometimes they show up on their arms or legs.

The infected areas range from dime to quarter size. They start as tiny blisters that break and reveal moist, red skin. After a few days, it gets covered with a grainy, golden crust that gradually spreads at the edges.

In serious cases, the infection invades a deeper layer of skin and turns into a form of impetigo called ecthyma. When that happens, your child gets pus-filled bumps with a crust that's much darker and thicker than ordinary impetigo.

Ecthyma can be very itchy. If your child scratches the irritated area, it can cause the infection to spread quickly. If you don't get it treated, the sores may cause permanent scars and changes in skin color.

A rare complication of impetigo is a severe kidney disease called post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.

The most common cause of impetigo is bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Another bacteria source is group A streptococcus.

These bacteria lurk everywhere. The most common way for your child to get impetigo is when they have contact with someone who has the infection, such as playing contact sports like wrestling. It's especially easy to pick it up if your kid has an open wound or a fresh scratch.

You can also catch impetigo if you share the same clothes, bedding, towels, or other objects with someone with the infection.

Your child is more likely to get impetigo if they have other skin problems, such as eczema, body lice, insect bites, or fungal infections.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Richard Usatine, MD


American Academy of Family Physicians. 

The Mayo Clinic

Habif, T. Clinical Dermatology, 4th edition, Mosby Inc.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Photo Caption

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info