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Impetigo (Latin name)

By Bjarne Lühr Hansen PhD, MD and Philipp Skafte-Holm MD, Mentor Institute

Impetigo is very contagious and is caused by a bacterial infection in the skin. The bacteria gest under the skin through small scratches. Impetigo starts as a little red spot that change to blisters that bursts and the typical amber impetigo occurs. Impetigo appears often in the face and on the hands. You can treat a smaller infection, but if there are many impetigo, you should contact your GP the following day.

Impetigo is very contagious and caused by a certain bacterial infection in the skin. The children infect each other when they play together. The disease often appears like an epidemic, i.e. many children have impetigo at the same time.

The bacteria gets under the skin through small scratches. Impetigo often appears with children with scratches in their skin after insect-bites, scabies, chickenpox and child-eczema.

Impetigo starts as a small red itchy mark that quickly develops to a group of small blisters. When the blisters burst, there is a watery wound. Amber scabs then cover the wound. Impetigo often spreads to other parts of the skin, because the child scratches.

Impetigo can appear all over the skin but is most frequent in the face around nose and mouth, in the scalp and on the hands.

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Impetigo is highly contagious. The bacteria transfers from person to person or from objects that the ill person has touched. Children, that has touched their impetigo has bacteria on their hands. If the child then couches another child the bacteria transfers. In the same manor, bacteria can transfer from e.g. toys and from the toys to another child.

The wounds are contagious as long as they are watery and as long as there are scabs. When the scabs has fallen off and there are no new wounds, the child is no longer contagious. Even though you have begun treatment, the wounds can still be contagious.

Day Care Centre
Since small children do not understand hygiene and would like to touch the wounds all the time, there is a risk for contamination. Children must not attend a nursery, day care or children’s day care until the wounds are dry and the scab has come off. Even though the doctor is treating the child, it can only come in a day care center when the last scab has come off.

Children in the school age have a better hygiene and can go to school and after school centre.

In order to minimize the contagious impetigo we recommend the following:

  • Wash your hands with water and soap after touching the wound.
  • Own towel for everyone.
  • Change towels and linen daily.
  • Wash your clothes at minimum 80oC.
  • The staff in the day care center should wash their hands (disposable towels) after touching wounds. Alternatively, you can dry the hands in alcoholic napkins (70 – 85 % ethanol) or in alcoholically based hand disinfectant.
  • Thorough cleaning.
  • Hoover fabric covered surfaces and wash or dry clean fabrics if they have been in contact with the wounds.
  • Toys that can be contaminated by the wounds should be washed daily with water and soap, maybe in a dishwasher.
  • It is important to clean everything the persons in the house are touching – handles and phones.

You can wash things that not are waterproof with spirits.


If the child only has a few impetigo, you can use the prescribed antibiotic ointment. You put the ointment on the wound after removing the scab. If there are more impetigo, it might be necessary to give penicillin as mixture or tablets.

What can you do?

If the child only have one or two smaller impetigo, you can remove the scab and wash thoroughly with water and soap. Remove the scabs by using a pair of tweezers after they have soaked in a wet towel. Remember thorough hygiene including hand wash, clipping nails, changing and thorough cleaning of clothes and linen.

Contact the doctor tomorrow

You should contact your doctor if there are several impetigo or if your own treatment does not help within one week. The doctor can e.g. prescribe penicillin to your child.

Contact the doctor immediately

Never necessary.