What is Impetigo (School sores)?

Impetigo is a crusty, weepy infection of the surface layers of the skin. It is more common in children than in adults, and for this reason is often referred to as School sores.

Breaks in the skin caused by, for example, cuts, scratches, insect bites and eczema can allow bacteria to enter the skin and cause infection. However, impetigo can also appear on skin where there is no obvious break.

Impetigo is most common when the weather is warm and humid. It spreads easily between people who live together or spend a lot of time together.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of impetigo is the appearance of scabby sores, which may start as blisters then scab over with yellow crusts.  They often start around the nose and on the face, and can spread to other parts of the body. 

Symptoms usually appear 7-10 days after becoming infected.

Cellulitis is a complication of impetigo which is where the bacteria spread underneath the skin.  This looks like a zone of expanding redness under the skin and needs to be seen by a doctor urgently.


How is it spread?

Impetigo is contagious, and is transferred by direct contact with fluid from the sores of an infected individual, or from contact with infected items such as towels, toys and clothes.

How is it treated?

If the sores remain untreated they can lead to more serious conditions and anyone with impetigo should be seen by a doctor.  A doctor may prescribe one or both of the following treatments for impetigo:

  • oral antibiotics
  • an antibiotic ointment applied to the affected area.

The full course of oral antibiotics must be completed; even if the sores heal earlier.


The following measures will help prevent the spread of impetigo:

  • children with impetigo should be kept away from school or preschool until at least 24 hours after the start of the treatment prescribed by the doctor
  • the infected person should use their own towel and facecloth which should not be used by others
  • towels, bed linen and items of clothing should be washed separately from those of other family members with hot water containing bleach or disinfectant
  • weeping sores should be kept covered with a non-stick dressing
  • hands should be washed thoroughly after changing dressings or after coming into contact with infected sores or items
  • scratching of sores should be avoided
  • swimming should be avoided until the sores have healed.

Talk to your family doctor for further information about impetigo.