Medical Matters: What is Impetigo and how can it be treated?

written by Scally McDaid Roarty June 15, 2018

This week Dr Ciaran Roarty of Scally McDaid Medical Practice Letterkenny explains what Impetigo is and how it can be treated.

Impetigo is a very common skin infection which usually (though not always) affects children. It is caused by bacteria and is very contagious. Simple touching can spread it from one child to another.

It can occur on healthy skin (primary Impetigo) or it may affect a part of the skin that is already broken ( secondary Impetigo) – for example a cut or skin with eczema or psoriasis. Underlying conditions such as Diabetes Mellitus or immunosuppression (for example from chemotherapy) predispose to Impetigo.

The most common form of impetigo encountered is Non- bullous Impetigo. Tiny blisters form initially which usually burst quite quickly leaving scabby patches on the skin that appear like moist golden crusts.  Underneath the skin is red and inflamed. The face is the usual site of infection but it can affect anywhere really on the skin.

Bullous Impetigo has large blisters which peel of leaving red raw areas underneath. This is more likely if you have another skin condition such as eczema.



Although it may resolve itself within a few weeks, we generally treat Impetigo because it is so contagious. Topical antibiotic creams are used for small patches  while an oral antibiotic suspension or tablets may be used if the rash is very widespread, if your immune system is suppressed or if you are feeling generally unwell. Oral antibiotics may also be used if the rash is spreading despite the use of creams or if it returns after being treated.

Avoiding passing Impetigo on to others is equally important so it is vital that we try not to touch (or let children touch) the rash and wash our hands after applying any creams. Towels etc should not be shared and children should not attend school until 48 hours after antibiotic treatment has been initiated.

Sometimes the treatment may not work because the bacteria causing  your Impetigo is actually resistant and your doctor may wish to do some tests to determine which antibiotic will actually work best.  If Impetigo recurs repeatedly it can be due to bacteria remaining and surviving inside the nose. Again your doctor may wish to do some tests to determine if this is the case and treat the nose also.   

The above information is intended as advice only and should you have any concerns contact your own Doctor.


Dr Ciarán Roarty MB, BCh BAO MICGP DRCOG Grad. Cert. Obst. Ultrasound is a full-time GP at Scally McDaid Medical Practice , Scally Place, Letterkenny,  Tel 0749164111,

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