What is Impetigo?
Impetigo is a severe, very contagious bacterial infection of the skin. Impetigo is known for afflicting children especially, and frequently spreads through school environments in small outbreaks. Impetigo is contagious to the touch, and affected skin touching affected skin is the most common vector of infection. While children are most frequently afflicted by impetigo, people of any age are vulnerable to impetigo if exposed to it under any circumstance.
Impetigo causes small bulbous blisters on the skin that fill with fluid. They are not unlike the blisters that form following a minor burn, as might occur from a match, candle or lighter, but they have a tendency to spread across a much wider area, more like a rash. Impetigo blisters contrast with blisters from many other skin conditions in that they are painless. Impetigo blisters burst after a certain period of time, and scab over; during this period they may be somewhat painful and sore to the touch as they imply a necessarily exposed patch of skin. The fluid within solidifies over the resulting open sore as a yellow crust.
Other forms of impetigo include barrous impetigo, which most commonly afflicts infants and children younger than two years of age. Ectyhma is a more severe version of impetigo that ultimately qualifies as a separate ailment entirely; it is caused by the same bacterial infection but penetrates the skin much more deeply. All forms of impetigo can very broadly in severity, resulting in an effective spectrum of cases, many of which have to be treated with different degrees of nuance.
Impetigo infection is commonly associated with locker rooms, much like athlete’s foot and jock itch.
Impetigo is fairly widespread for a disease that is spread almost exclusively by skin contact, but information about it is relatively rare. Compared to the literature out and circulated about jock itch, athlete’s foot, MRSA and other ailments common to locker room conditions.
Who gets Impetigo?
Impetigo can afflict absolutely anyone who becomes exposed to it. Impetigo does not discriminate based on sex nor ethnicity, nor are there any relevant genetic components that can leave one more vulnerale to impetigo. As a bacterial infection, it is highly contagious, and significant innate resistances are rare. The very young and very old are more susceptible to impetigo of various forms, as their immune systems are not as likely to fight it off before it can acquire a hold.
Various forms of impetigo are known to affect different individuals more disparately. Bullous impetigo, for instance, is nearly exclusively seen in infants and children no older than two years of age, and is most commonly known for spreading among daycare and preschooled children at the very oldest. Impetigo contagiosa (‘normal’ impetigo) on the other hand is most common among adolescents and young adults who share spaces, such as locker rooms or showers, much like jock itch or athlete’s foot. Men and women are equally likely to suffer from impetigo and neither men nor women suffer from disparate symptoms from it. Impetigo is significantly more common among individuals with physical jobs as a result of this, and most of the distinguishing factors that set apart individuals at risk for impetigo come from a consequence of their social climate.
Individuals with significant antibiotic resistances are not necessarily more likely to contract impetigo, but they are much more likely to have difficulties treating it. Most impetigo treatments involve antibiotics; fortunately, there are exceptions and alternate treatments available, although they may be somewhat inconvenient.
What causes Impetigo?
Impetigo is caused, in short, by exposure to the appropriate bacterial agent. Impetigo is an extremely contagious condition. The most common form of exposure to impetigo contagiosa comes from skin-to-skin contact. Contact between healthy and affected skin is likely to result in an infection. Contraction of impetigo contagiosa is also possible if one should touch an infected surface. However, the bacteria involved in impetigo contagiosa are significantly less hardy than, say, the spores that grow into the fungal infection that causes athlete’s foot and jock itch, so contracting impetigo from an affected surface is a relatively unlikely occurrence.
Fluid contact is an easy vector of infection, especially if individuals have open sores already before they are exposed to the impetigo bacteria. This is a greater risk the more severe the case of impetigo contagiosa at hand, as this will be reflected in how much surface area the ailment takes up, and consequently how likely exposure is. Generally, fluid contact under already wet conditions is riskier, but flowing water significantly reduces the risk of impetigo contraction, simply because impetigo bacteria will not be in place long enough to get a hold, and will be quickly washed away.
Impetigo is not made to incubate by warm and wet conditions, as can hold true for athlete’s foot, jock itch and other fungal infections. It is a bacterial infection, not a fungal infection. If it is going to take hold and grow, it is going to be in the skin directly, rather than on it. That said, impetigo is frequently mistaken for a rash brought on by similar treatment to athlete’s foot and jock itch, which can in some circles downplay its contagious nature. That said, there are correlations between warm and wet areas, such as locker rooms, and impetigo contraction. This is partially incidental and partially because the bacteria can survive more effectively in this environment long enough to find a new host. However, this is not to say that a running shower is a breeding ground for impetigo infection. Running water significantly reduces any risk that might have been present.
What does Impetigo cause?
Different forms of impetigo carry different symptoms, but the staple symptom present in all forms of impetigo to various degrees of severity is the blistering, rupturing of blisters and yellow crusting over the blisters with pus. The blisters that form vary in size, generally no more than an eighth of an inch across, but sometimes reaching triple that size or more. These fluid-filled sacs are completely painless, and it is not unusual for an individual to fail to notice that they are suffering from impetigo blistering until their blisters rupture.
After the blisters rupture, they have a tendency to be painful. They become, in effect, open sores. This holds true for minor forms of impetigo. In more severe forms of impetigo, like ecthyma, the blisters will ulcerate after bursting, resulting in even more serious pain. Impetigo blisters are not known for bleeding after they rupture and drain, but ulcerations from severe impetigo may. The rupturing of impetigo blisters is the mechanic that makes impetigo most contagious, and exposure to a ruptured blister is the most common vector of infection.
Ruptured blisters release the fluid within, which is usually pus. This fluid can leave small and subtle but still very visible stains on clothing of most colors, making impetigo something of a nuisance. This is not, strictly speaking, a symptom, but it is a common factor that many individuals suffering from impetigo tend to deal with. This is most easily avoided by leaving affected skin bare as much as is feasible until the blisters rupture on their own. The crusted-over scabs are not likely to cause any staining on their own.
In all forms of impetigo, ruptured blisters are likely to become infected without proper care. To start with, they are already infected with impetigo bacteria, prompting an immune reaction, and this infection can easily spread, but there are other forms of infection that the body becomes vulnerable to at any time it has an open sore, and impetigo provides plenty for other infectious bacteria to prey upon. Impetigo sores tend to be more vulnerable the deeper they are; ecthyma ulcers are much more likely to become infected, for instance, and more severe cases of impetigo are far more likely to suffer from secondary infections, particularly secondary bacterial infections. Fortunately, the treatment options for impetigo have a tendency to be effective against the secondary infections as well.
How serious is Impetigo?
Impetigo comes in several different forms, and some are more serious than others. Impetigo in and of itself never poses a risk to life or limb. It is a skin disease that affects the skin over a limited area, and shallowly at that; it does not for the most part endanger the skin’s ability to function as a skin. The biggest risk from extreme skin conditions is water loss due to lost skin surface area—this is never a risk even with the worst cases of impetigo. Impetigo simply lacks the ability to spread that broadly to make it anything more than a nuisance condition, at least with respect to basic impetigo.
More severe cases of impetigo can be quite severe on merit of their symptoms alone.
That said, impetigo complications can be quite severe. This holds especially true for more severe versions of impetigo, such as ecthyma. Secondary bacterial infections can actually pose a more serious threat than impetigo itself, despite the fact that impetigo is a bacterial condition. The symptoms of impetigo are not nearly as serious and, simply put, are not as painful as what some other bacteria can inflict. Secondary infections can become a very real threat to life and limb and should be handled by a medical professional with all possible haste.
In some cases, impetigo can be temporarily debilitating through the formation of blisters near joints. When the blisters are still growing and filling with fluid and remain in their painless state, this isn’t nearly as much a concern—but when the blisters pop and drain their fluid and become open sores and potentially quite painful, this can result in significant discomfort when an affected limb needs to be moved.
Similarly, impetigo can be more than a nuisance for individuals required to wear white uniforms, such as waitpersons in higher-class restaurants. The rupture of an impetigo blister can out-and-out ruin a uniform for a night, especially if the blisters form on the torso. This can make working with impetigo somewhat difficult for many individuals, as minor a problem as small amounts of clothing damage may seem to be.
What does Impetigo treatment look like?
Treatment for impetigo revolves around the treatment of the bacterial infection, first and foremost. Because impetigo infections are localized, general oral antibiotics are usually not required. Instead, the most common form of treatment is the use of neosporin or other antiseptic treatment once the blisters have burst. This will help fight the bacterial infection and eventually allow impetigo to clear, resulting in no more blisters. Impetigo is not a chronic condition and can be cured.
There are some exceptions to this in the form of more serious and severe cases of impetigo. Under some circumstances, general antibiotics administered orally are a more viable option. This is generally either because the impetigo has spread to such a degree that it is more economical and effective to treat it all at once with general antibiotics, or because it is so severe that local antibiotics are not having as profound an effect as they should. The more severe the case of impetigo, the heavier the treatment required.
Secondary bacterial infections resulting from impetigo can usually be treated with the same antibacterial and antibiotic agents, meaning that one treatment will work for both. There are exceptions to this depending upon the nature of the secondary bacterial infection, but for the most part they are rendered much less dire by the simple fact that a single treatment will have an impact on both.
A dilution of hydrogen peroxide administered in the form of a cream has been demonstrated to be as effective as antibiotics for the purposes of destroying impetigo bacteria. While bottled hydrogen peroxide, as is most frequently seen in stores is not effective, being of a much lower concentration and a much faster action, the slow action of a strong hydrogen peroxide cream can effectively keep impetigo at bay for quite some time with a single treatment, making it an effective treatment. For individuals with antibiotic resistances, hydrogen peroxide can make for an effective alternate treatment that will not require stepping up antibiotic strength for a relatively innocuous connection.
How do I know if I have Impetigo?
Impetigo can be diagnosed fairly easily by the presence of symptoms. Impetigo blisters are distinct for their yellow crust after bursting, and for their painlessness while they are still expanding and filling with fluid. That said, impetigo should be diagnosed properly by a medical professional. While impetigo may clear on its own, severe cases of impetigo always require the intervention of a trained medical professional.